Some interesting consumer news of the week, in case you missed it

An occasional update featuring important consumer stories you may have missed this week. This week, Occupy Wall Street joins clarion call for CFPB to reform the credit bureaus...Leading consumer columnist Michelle Singletary calls Google's practices "creepy"...Massachusetts official says "take state's money out of banks that don't comply with state laws requiring free accounts for young/old...FCC wants comment on cellphone shutdowns that affect First Amendment rights...and more.

In these occasional posts, I try and simply summarize a few important, or at least interesting, consumer stories you may have missed this week.

This week, Occupy Wall Street joins the growing call for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to reform the credit bureaus. I generally agree with OWS, not this news story’s outside expert’s analysis,  but the story is short and links to the Occupy Wall Street comment letter to the CFPB. You can file your own credit reporting larger participant” comments until 17 April (search for “larger participants” as that link is to a page that lists all open comment periods on the CFPB’s redesigned website (homepage)).

Leading consumer columnist Michelle Singletary in the Washington Post calls Google’s new privacy practices “creepy” and says she is reminded of the Tom Cruise character John Anderton walking through the mall (right) in the futuristic movie Minority Report: “The road you’re on, John Anderton, is the one less traveled.” Another says: “John Anderton! You could use a Guinness right about now.” Singletary adds: “It’s creepy.”  She goes on to point out that Anderton got his eyeballs replaced in an effort to protect his privacy. You don’t need to do that, yet, but this is one of many pages (WAPO story) that explains some ways you can reduce your exposure to Google’s new panopticon collection of information across all its platforms. By the way, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Minority Report is just one in a pantheon of brilliant movies (e.g., Blade Runner, Total Recall (being remade) and others) based on stories by the late, great Philip K. Dick.

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin wants to yank all the states’ money out of the nationally-chartered banks that consider themselves above the state law that requires free checking accounts for teenagers (<19) and senior citizens (65 and up). When Illinois Governor Pat Quinn was state treasurer years ago, he made similar efforts. Galvin should have a better hand now that the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act has limited the state law preemption powers of the obscure but no longer as powerful as it once was federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC).

The FCC is looking at mobile phone shutdowns by government officials. Last year, BART, the San Franciso area transit system, shut down cell phone service, ostensibly to prevent “imminent unlawful activity” from being aided by mobile communication; of course, BART also prevented lawful and emergency activities, whether or not associated with First Amendment rights. From the New York Times:Julius Genachowski, the F.C.C. chairman, said in a statement that such a shutdown “raises serious legal and policy issues, and must meet a very high bar.” ” More from CNET.

Finally, travel columnist Chris Elliott (WAPO) hammers on one of my pet peeves: The sordid practice of travel sites pre-checking radio button defaults to “YES” or “ON” for the purchase of over-priced, under-performing add-ons. In this case, the problem is travel insurance. According to his story, legal action by the state of Minnesota and new U.S. Department of Transportation rules may be putting an end to the practice.  I still don’t like the related, less evil but more common, practice on airline and travel sites of making the button to sign up for an extra fee or optional add-on bigger and brighter than the “no thanks” button. But, this is a good step.


Ed Mierzwinski

Senior Director, Federal Consumer Program, PIRG

Ed oversees U.S. PIRG’s federal consumer program, helping to lead national efforts to improve consumer credit reporting laws, identity theft protections, product safety regulations and more. Ed is co-founder and continuing leader of the coalition, Americans For Financial Reform, which fought for the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, including as its centerpiece the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He was awarded the Consumer Federation of America's Esther Peterson Consumer Service Award in 2006, Privacy International's Brandeis Award in 2003, and numerous annual "Top Lobbyist" awards from The Hill and other outlets. Ed lives in Virginia, and on weekends he enjoys biking with friends on the many local bicycle trails.