Financial Privacy Notices: Do They Really Want You to Know What They're Saying?

"Because we value your privacy.. we may sell your personal financial information." Does this make sense? Of course, not. But, that is precisely the message many banks and other financial companies are now sending to their customers. However, this message -- blurred by fine print, big words, long sentences and marketing jargon -- is far from clear.

The Role of Consumer Education and Intervention in an Environment of Limited Privacy Regulation

In an environment of limited privacy regulation, consumers must be able to have access to consumer education resources as well as problem-solving and intervention services. In addition to providing much-needed assistance, such consumer education and intervention services provide the function of a societal feedback loop. The PRC acts as a feedback mechanism by obtaining information from consumers about their experiences in the marketplace.

Confusing E-Mail about Opt-Out Number Sends the Wrong Message

An unknown individual has broadcast an electronic mail message that has reached tens of thousands of consumers, confusing them with information that is only half correct.

The message explains, erroneously, that as of July 1, 2003, "the four major credit bureaus in the US will be allowed . to release your credit info, mailing addresses, phone numbers..... to anyone who requests it." This is not correct.

New Privacy Rights May Be Buried in "Junk" Mail

Now is not the time to toss junk mail and ignore inserts in your bank and credit card statements. "Watch your mail!" says Tena Friery, research director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Because of a new federal law, financial institutions are now mailing notices to consumers containing important information about their privacy rights. "Failure to pay attention to these privacy notices may result in sensitive financial data being sold to other companies for marketing and other purposes," warns Friery.

The Information Marketplace: Merging and Exchanging Consumer Data

Since the mid-1990s the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has held numerous workshops and conducted important surveys on privacy in the online arena. The FTC has taken significant strides in bringing these issues to light and in framing the public policy debate. I am pleased that the FTC is now taking up the issue of offline consumer privacy issues.

2001: The GLB Odyssey -- We're Not There Yet: How Consumers Rial Privacy Notices and Recommendations for Improving Them

Given the complexity and limitations of GLB's privacy provisions, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC) undertook a major project to educate consumers about the new law and their right to prevent information sharing. The PRC launched this project with the premise that such an educational program would fill the gap left by questions unanswered from consumers' review of the notices required by GLB. Instead, what we found was that the majority of consumers who contacted us had heard or read media stories about the GLB notices and realized they had ignored the notices that their financial institutions had mailed to them in previous months. Few of the consumers who contacted us had actually noticed or read the notices. They were worried that they had missed the opportunity to prevent the sharing of their customer data with other companies.

For customers, from the President and CEO of Egghead -- Deadline Sept. 21, 2001

Dear Valued Customer,

As you know from my previous letter, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and is in the process of selling its ongoing business.  As part of the sale process, has entered into an Asset Purchase Agreement with Fry's Electronics but other companies will be given the opportunity to outbid Fry's.  As a result, another company might be approved by the court as the actual buyer.  We plan to complete the sale soon and in no event later than September 30, 2001.

Public Access to Electronic Case Files

We recognize the convenience to the courts and counsel in electronic filing, the need to reduce paper files, and the long-standing principles of public access to court proceedings. However, the PRC and EFF believe the potential for both intangible invasions of privacy by those who have no need to know and more tangible harms such as identity theft outweigh reliance on a system that provides full access to court records electronically. Convenience and storage problems in this electronic age need to be addressed, but hopefully in such a way as to protect not only the public interest by providing access to public records, but to protect privacy interests as well.

College and University Privacy Issues: Social Security Numbers and Smart Cards

Overview: There are many privacy issues facing colleges and universities today. This presentation covers only the first two below:

  • SSNs as student identification numbers
    - Identity theft and other security issues
  • Multi-purpose "smart" cards, privacy implications
  • Violence profiling
  • Weapons searches
  • Drug testing
  • E-mail, Internet uses, websites, acceptable use policy
  • Records disclosure


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