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  • FTC alleges ROSCA, GLBA and FTC Act violations against bill payment platform

    Federal Issues

    On April 25, the FTC announced an enforcement action against a third-party bill payment platform and two of its co-founders (defendants) for allegedly running misleading advertisements that intercepted consumers attempting to reach their billers, using “dark patterns” to manipulate the consumers into using the platform under the false belief that they have reached the biller’s official payment site, charging “junk fees” in connection with the processing of payments, and in some cases sending untimely payments to billers. According to the FTC’s complaint, the company allegedly violated the FTC Act by making false or misleading representations that it was an official payment channel for the consumers’ billers. The FTC also claimed defendants violated the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act by charging consumers for goods or services before clearly and conspicuously disclosing to consumers all material terms of the transaction and obtaining the consumers’ informed consent to be charged, and enrolling consumers into a paid subscription service by automatically ticking a box without warning when consumers clicked on a “User Terms of Service” hyperlink. Additionally, the FTC alleged that the company caused consumers to incur late fees and other inconveniences by failing to make timely payment to consumers’ billers, despite having received timely payment from the consumer. The FTC’s complaint also alleged that defendants used fraudulent statements or representations to obtain consumer information such as bank account numbers, routing numbers, credit card numbers, and debit card numbers in violation of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.

    The FTC claimed that defendants received tens of thousands of consumer complaints, inquiries from two state attorney’s general offices, and temporarily lost access to a credit card company’s network due to the complaints, among other warnings regarding its practices. The FTC will seek a permanent injunction, monetary relief, and other relief.

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement ROSCA GLBA Junk Fees FTC Act Consumer Protection Third-Party

  • District Court says university is a financial institution exempt from state privacy law

    Courts

    On November 4, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted a defendant university’s motion to dismiss Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act claims (BIPA), ruling that because the defendant participates in the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Program, it is a “financial institution” subject to Title V of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) and therefore exempt from BIPA. Plaintiff sued the defendant claiming the university used technology to collect biometric identifiers to surveil students taking online exams. According to the plaintiff, the defendant’s use of this technology violated students’ biometric privacy rights because the defendant did not obtain students’ written consent to collect and use that data, failed to disclose what happens with the data after collection, and failed to adhere to BIPA’s retention and destruction requirements.

    The court disagreed and dismissed the putative class action. The court explained that the defendant’s direct student lending and participation in the Federal Student Aid Program allows it to qualify as a “financial institution,” defined by the GLBA as “any institution the business of which is engaging in financial activities.” As such, it is expressly exempt from BIPA. The court rejected plaintiff’s argument that the defendant did not fit within this definition because it is in the business of higher education rather than financial activities because at least five other courts that have also concluded that “institutions of higher education that are significantly engaged in financial activities such as making or administering student loans” qualify for exemption. The court also referred to a 2000 FTC rule issued when the Commission had both enforcement and rulemaking authority under the GLBA. The rule considered colleges and universities to be financial institutions if they “appear to be significantly engaged in lending funds to consumers,” which the court found to be “particularly persuasive because it evidences longstanding, consistent, and well-reasoned interpretation of the statute that it had been tasked to administer.”

    Courts State Issues Illinois Class Action BIPA GLBA Department of Education FTC Student Lending Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

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