During his tenure at the Federal Trade Commission, Rohit Chopra was keen to scrutinize the business practices of large tech companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon.
Today, to the delight of progressives in Washington, he seems to be paying the same attention to his new post as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Earlier in October, in one of Chopra’s first acts as director, the agency ordered six major tech companies to provide information about their payment systems and how they handle users’ personal data. related to payments and financial information. The companies targeted by the CFPB survey are Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, PayPal and Square.
In a statement accompanying the order, Chopra acknowledged that innovative payment systems could have positive benefits for consumers and small business owners. But he said in the hands of companies that already wield considerable market power and have huge amounts of data on the privacy of their users, such systems could be subject to abuse.
“This data can be monetized by companies looking to profit from behavioral targeting, particularly around advertising and e-commerce,” Chopra said. “The fact that many large tech companies aspire to grow in this space only exacerbates these concerns. “
Groups aligned with the tech industry are already pushing back Chopra’s demands. Carl Szabo, vice chairman of NetChoice, a coalition with members including Facebook, Google and Amazon, said the CFPB survey shows “a lack of appreciation for the consumer benefits that have emerged from the growing ecosystem digital payment services “.
“Consumers can choose between services offered by companies with a strong track record in privacy, while others can prioritize other factors,” Szabo said. “Instead, Chopra is looking for a problem to satisfy its desire for government intervention, regardless of whether consumers would actually benefit.”
While one of the two Democratic commissioners of the five-member Federal Trade Commission, Chopra openly criticized the practices of large corporations, especially tech giant Facebook. He filed strong dissent over the FTC’s actions against the company for breach of privacy and alleged anti-competitive behavior, saying they did not go far enough.
Chopra’s appointment as head of the CFPB, which opened under President Obama and languished under the Trump administration, marked a kind of homecoming. Chopra, a graduate of Harvard University of New Jersey, helped launch the consumer protection agency after the 2008-09 financial crisis and served as a deputy director, where he sounded the alarm on rising levels of the student debt.
Although it enforces consumer protection laws, the CFPB can also review the practices of virtually any business selling financial products and services. Chopra was deputy to its first director, Richard Cordray, as the agency took enforcement action against a range of businesses, large and small, and returned tens of billions of dollars to consumers harmed by illegal practices.
The tech industry has gained the attention of lawmakers, regulators, and consumer welfare advocates in recent years, with an emphasis on data privacy, competition, and content moderation. But from 2019, largely with Facebook’s announcement of its intention to launch a digital currency, the focus grew to include financial systems.
Senator Sherrod Brown, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, said in a statement that the expansion of technology companies in the financial sector “is of deep concern.”
“No one should have to worry about buying, selling or stealing their information, including their financial records,” the Ohio Democrat said.
Chopra, who was confirmed by the Senate in a 50-48 vote in September and was sworn in on October 12, has long been supported by Democrats such as Brown and Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was her patron saint during his first stint at CFPB. , when she was the agency’s first director.
His investigation into Big Tech’s payment systems won him new praise.
“[This] This is what Americans need and expect from financial regulators, ”Robert Weissman, chairman of advocacy group Public Citizen, said in a statement. “CFPB was designed to protect us from unfair practices, especially corporate schemes that an ordinary person may not know are happening, and that is exactly what it is doing under the leadership of Chopra.”
Sarah Miller, president of the American Economic Liberties Project, an organization that seeks to break down monopolies in the tech sector and other industries, said the investigation could be a critical step in preventing companies from dominating a another area of economics.
“A week later, Chopra is already proving he knows how to use his authority to stand up to Big Tech,” Miller said in a statement. “The CFPB orders will force Big Tech to shed light on their surveillance, data collection and payment systems and offer regulators another important window into their sprawling empires.”