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Facebook Halts Advertising Targeting Cited in Bias Complaints and Lawsuits

From today’s New York Times:

After years of criticism, Facebook announced on Tuesday that it would stop allowing advertisers in key categories to show their messages only to people of a certain race, gender or age group.

The company said that anyone advertising housing, jobs or credit — three areas where federal law prohibits discrimination in ads — would no longer have the option of explicitly aiming ads at people on the basis of those characteristics.

The changes are part of a settlement with groups that have sued Facebook over these practices in recent years, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Fair Housing Alliance and the Communications Workers of America. They also cover advertising on Instagram and Messenger, which Facebook owns.

“We think this settlement is historic and will go a long way toward making sure that these types of discriminatory practices can’t happen,” Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, said in an interview.

The company said it planned to carry out the changes by the end of the year and would pay less than $5 million to settle five lawsuits brought by the groups.

Read the complete article here.

Op-Ed: Consumer rights are worthless without enforcement by the state

From today’s San Francisco Chronicle:

57 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made an impassioned pitch for stronger consumer rights.

“If consumers are offered inferior products, if prices are exorbitant, if drugs are unsafe or worthless, if the consumer is unable to choose on an informed basis, then his dollar is wasted, his health and safety may be threatened, and the national interest suffers.”

Kennedy offered these words of warning on March 15, 1962, a date now celebrated as World Consumer Rights Day. He then called on Congress to enact legislation to protect four fundamental consumer rights: the right to safety, the right to be informed, the right to choose and the right to be heard.

The address has become known as the “consumer bill of rights.” But Kennedy also discussed an equally important issue: how such rights would be enforced. After all, without enforcement, consumer rights are just empty promises.

Consumer rights flourish

The idea of consumer rights was nothing new in 1962.

As I describe in my research on the history of consumer credit regulation, the states took an early interest in protecting ordinary Americans against abuse by lenders and debt collectors, beginning in the earliest days of the republic. Most adopted usury laws limiting the price of credit in the colonial period, exemption laws shielding property from seizure by creditors in the 19th century and more tailored consumer credit regulations in the early and middle 20th century.

What was noteworthy about Kennedy’s address was not his push for more consumer rights, but rather his call for the federal government – “the highest spokesman for all the people” – to act on behalf of consumers instead of ceding the role of consumer protector to the states.

Congress heeded Kennedy’s call and passed a flurry of consumer legislation.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, it required lenders to clearly disclose loan terms through the Truth in Lending Act, mandated fair credit reporting and debt collection practices, created safety standards for cars and other consumer products, and banned discrimination in housing and consumer lending. More recently, in 2010, Congress created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and tasked the agency with guarding consumers against unfair, deceptive or abusive acts and practices in financial services.

The states also reinforced their decades-old consumer laws in the 1960s and ’70s by banning unfair and deceptive acts and practices under state “UDAP” laws.

Accordingly, consumer rights today are far more robust than they were when JFK gave his speech. To be sure, new business practices regularly require that existing laws be updated to address unanticipated threats.

But the biggest challenge today is not the need for new consumer rights. Rather, it is ensuring that existing rights are enforced.

Legal fee recovery and class actions

There are basically two ways to enforce a consumer right: privately with a lawsuit or publicly via regulators.

The biggest barrier to effective private enforcement is financial. First of all, the harm to an individual consumer from a rights violation is often small, reducing the economic incentive to sue. Secondly, to sue in court, a consumer generally requires the assistance of an attorney, who must be paid. Finally, even if the individual goes to court and wins, the damage award is frequently too insignificant to deter the violator from engaging in profitable but illegal practices in the future.

Fortunately, two legal innovations have helped consumers overcome some of these hurdles.

One, rules allowing prevailing plaintiffs to recover attorneys’ fees, expanded with the raft of consumer rights legislation of the late 1960s. These provisions gave consumers the right to recover the costs of their legal representation along with any actual damages for some rights violations.

The other was the birth of the modern class action lawsuit in 1966, which allowed consumers who suffer similar monetary harms to aggregate their claims into a single large lawsuit, leading to multimillion dollar settlements.

Public enforcement

The other way to give consumer rights teeth is through public enforcement. And besides the potential for monetary awards, this method opens the door to other types of remedies for consumers.

For example, the New Jersey attorney general recently sued two auto dealerships, alleging that they sold damaged vehicles at unaffordable prices to “financially vulnerable” customers who were then left stranded when the dealers repossessed the cars without advance warning. The complaint seeks to ban the violators from selling car in the future, in addition to monetary relief.

Enforcement shortfalls

Recent developments, however, raise concerns about the future of consumer rights enforcement through both public and private channels.

The strength of public enforcement is subject to the whims of state and federal officials, who may reduce enforcement resources or refuse to bring enforcement actions.

A prime example is the weakening of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which from 2011 through 2017 helped millions of consumers receive nearly $12 billion back from misbehaving financial institutions. A recent study found that CFPB enforcement activity has declined significantly since the end of 2017, when Richard Cordray, its first director, stepped down.

Paper tigers

Compared with 1962, when President Kennedy put consumer concerns on the national agenda, ordinary Americans now have far more robust rights to safety, to information, to choice and to a fair hearing.

But consumer rights do not enforce themselves. Public enforcement requires funding and willing leaders. Private enforcement requires legal devices that allow consumers to pay attorneys for their work.

Without an ongoing commitment to enforcement, consumer rights may become paper tigers, offering the appearance of protection without any teeth.

Read the complete article here.

Six countries give women the same work rights as men, US not one of them

From today’s Washington Post:

A decade ago, no country in the world treated men and women equally under the law, according to a gender equality index from the World Bank. Today, only six countries do — and the United States isn’t one of them.

A new index released this week by the World Bank analyzes how each country’s laws affect women at every stage in their working lives — from applying for a job to having a child to receiving a pension — and the extent to which legal gender equality has progressed over time.

The study shows that over the past 10 years, the majority of the world moved closer to gender equality under the law, raising the global average score from 70.06 to 74.71 today.

By the index’s measures, six countries now have laws that protect men and women equally: Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden.

The United States, meanwhile, is far from the leading pack. Its 2018 score came in at 83.75, a score that has stayed flat for the past 10 years. The U.S. tied with Malawi, Kenya and The Bahamas. More than 60 other countries had better scores.

The study, titled “Women, Business and the Law 2019: A Decade of Reform,” calculated each country’s score using 35 different indicators, focusing on laws that affect women’s ability to live and work freely. Each of the data points were divided into eight categories: Going places, starting a job, getting paid, getting married, having children, running a business, managing assets and getting a pension.

Read the complete article here.

Spending Is as Easy as Pushing a Button. The Hard Part? Keeping Track.

From today’s New York Times:

How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Tara Siegel Bernard, a personal finance reporter, discussed the tech she’s using.

What are your most important tech tools for tracking budgets?

This may sound strange coming from a personal finance reporter, but I’m not a big fan of traditional budgets — I don’t think they work. I try to keep my own spending in check by taking the reverse approach. Instead of tracking every dollar, I focus on what we need to save for: retirement, college or some other goal. After you’ve automated your savings goals and created a bit of a cushion for emergencies, you’re freer to spend without thinking too hard or feeling too guilty. It’s an imperfect system, but it’s better than a failed budget.

That method won’t necessarily work in all situations, especially if you need to tackle debt or establish a stricter spending plan in retirement. And everyone can benefit from tracking personal spending, even if you do it only for a few months or check in only every quarter.

Mint has been around for a while, but it is still a solid way to take stock of where all of your money is going and whether your net worth is moving in the right direction. It also allows you to create a budget, and alerts you when you’ve spent too much. I use it infrequently, and there’s usually at least one kink I need to work out whenever I log in; most recently, it counted all of my retirement accounts twice, which was kind of cruel.

Which basic tools would you recommend for people to increase their savings and investments?

It’s not so much a tool but a technology: automation. After you’ve settled on a low-cost investment provider such as Vanguard, automation is the surest way to set yourself up for success. Automate as much as you can — your Roth I.R.A. contributions, your kids’ 529 college savings accounts. If you have an employer-provided retirement plan like a 401(k), see if it will allow you to automatically increase the percentage you’re saving each year. If not, set a date in your electronic calendar to remind you to revisit all of those amounts annually.

I also like the little revolution that the roboadvisers have started. They lean heavily on technology to help invest and manage your money, though more of them are increasingly integrating human advisers. Betterment and Wealthfront have free tools that will let you play with various goals and savings amounts to see how long it will take you to save what you need.

Read the complete article here.

FBI analyzed NC political operative in May, took no action to stop fraud

From today’s Washington Post:

The FBI participated in a May surveillance operation of a GOP political operative at the center of an election fraud investigation in North Carolina, newly released court documents show, raising fresh questions about how long it has taken federal prosecutors to pursue the matter.

Federal and state investigators observed Leslie McCrae Dowless meeting with people he hired to collect ballots ahead of last year’s primary election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, according to state search warrants released Wednesday.

At the time, Dowless was working on behalf of Republican candidate Mark Harris, who went on to beat GOP incumbent Robert Pittenger by 828 votes. Dowless also worked for the Harris campaign in the fall, when Harris narrowly edged out Democrat Dan McCready in the unofficial results.

State officials ordered a new election in the 9th District last month after concluding that Dowless orchestrated a “coordinated, unlawful, and substantially resourced” scheme to collect, fill out, forge and in some cases discard absentee ballots on behalf of Harris.

Separately, the Wake County district attorney’s office in Raleigh last month charged Dowless and four others on felony counts, including possession of absentee ballots and obstruction of justice.

Harris has denied knowledge of the scheme. He said last month he would not run in the special election scheduled for later this year.

Read the complete article here.

Rap Sheets Haunt Former Inmates. California May Change That.

From today’s New York Times:

After spending more than seven years in prison for robbery and auto theft, Jay Jordan tried to get work selling insurance, real estate and used cars, but was repeatedly turned away, he said.

People with a felony record are often barred from obtaining professional licenses, and an opportunity to be a barber at a friend’s shop fell through for the same reason. A nonprofit program he started ran into trouble when a school sought to prevent him from meeting with students because of his criminal past — a history that began when he stole a car at 18, almost 15 years ago.

Under a bill now making its way through the California State Legislature, millions of people in the state who have misdemeanor or lower-level felony records could be spared those problems: their criminal records would automatically be sealed from public view once they completed prison or jail sentences. The legislation would not apply to people convicted of committing the most serious crimes, like murder or rape.

“There are so many of us who just want to be better, but are constantly turned down, turned away,” said Mr. Jordan, who is now project director for Time Done, a program that is part of Californians for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit that advocates to make the criminal justice system less punitive.

In the United States, a record showing a criminal conviction or even an arrest that does not lead to a conviction can make it nearly impossiblefor someone to find jobs or apartments or to obtain professional licenses like those required in many states for barbers or real estate agents.

One in three Americans has a criminal record, according to the Justice Department, and a National Institute of Justice study found that having a criminal record reduced the chance of getting a job offer or a callback by 50 percent.

The legislation, introduced last week in the State Assembly, would make California — where an estimated eight million people have criminal records — the first state in the nation to automatically scrub the rap sheets of people whose records qualify. The law would apply retroactively, meaning that people arrested or convicted of various crimes dating back decades would have their records automatically sealed. The records would still be accessible to law enforcement agencies, but not to members of the general public, including potential landlords and employers.

Read the complete article here.


US Soccer stars ‘confident’ of winning gender discrimination lawsuit

From today’s CNN International News:

The US women’s national soccer team will “fight until the end” in its battle for equality, says one of the team’s co-captains Megan Rapinoe.With the Women’s World Cup just months away, 28 players in the US squad last week filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation, stating “institutionalized gender discrimination,” which the reigning world champions say has existed for years.

Megan Rapinoe #15 kneels during the National Anthem prior to the match between the US and the Netherlands in September 2016.

The suit, filed in a federal court in Los Angeles on March 8 — International Women’s Day — intensified the team’s long-running dispute with the federation over pay equity and working conditions, stating that “female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts.”Rapinoe, a World Cup winner in 2015, told CNN Sport she was confident the team would be successful, adding that the USWNT was happy to “clear the path as much as we can” for other countries in the fight for gender equality.

The US women’s national soccer team will “fight until the end” in its battle for equality, says one of the team’s co-captains Megan Rapinoe.With the Women’s World Cup just months away, 28 players in the US squad last week filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation, stating “institutionalized gender discrimination,” which the reigning world champions say has existed for years.

The suit, filed in a federal court in Los Angeles on March 8 — International Women’s Day — intensified the team’s long-running dispute with the federation over pay equity and working conditions, stating that “female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts.”Rapinoe, a World Cup winner in 2015, told CNN Sport she was confident the team would be successful, adding that the USWNT was happy to “clear the path as much as we can” for other countries in the fight for gender equality.

Read the complete article here.

Can Courts Strike Down Right-to-Work?

From The American Prospect:

Last week, in a move that’s as likely to baffle union activists as it is to encourage them, a West Virginia judge struck down key portions of the state’s “right-to-work” law.

The Kenawha County judge’s ruling may amount to no more than a temporary hiccup in West Virginia Republicans’ war to destroy unions. But it’s another example of how hotly provisions of the 1947 federal Taft-Hartley Act are being contested in the courts as it becomes clearer that the anti-union impact of the law has contributed to an era of massive inequality that threatens our democracy.

West Virginia’s “right to work” law was rammed through on a party-line vote prior to 2016’s presidential election and the recent statewide teachers strikes. It had survived a Democratic gubernatorial veto and a previous injunction based in part on its ridiculously sloppy drafting. Last week, however, siding with a coalition of unions that included the building trades, Teamsters and Mineworkers, Judge Jennifer Bailey ruled the law  “unnecessarily and unconstitutionally imposes an excessive burden on Plaintiffs’ associational rights,” and that the goal of letting workers opt out of union membership “can be, and have been, fully accomplished without taking the additional steps of prohibiting agency fees, and giving free riders something for nothing.”

Anne Marie Lofaso, a professor of law at West Virginia University, describes Bailey’s ruling as “an extremely well-done decision that holds together and reflects some excellent lawyering for the union plaintiffs.”

In many respects, the West Virginia decision is a replay of a briefly encouraging moment in April of 2016 when a Dane County judge struck down Wisconsin’s recently enacted “right-to-work” law. That decision was predictably reversed by a Republican-dominated higher state court one year later.

Read the complete article here.

Online and Making Thousands, at Age 4: Meet the Kidfluencers of branding

From today’s New York Times:

Samia was an influencer before she could talk.

Her parents, Adam and LaToya Ali, are influencers themselves and began chronicling Samia’s impending arrival on YouTube and Instagram in 2014, once Ms. Ali learned she was pregnant.

“Samia’s birth video is on YouTube, so she’s pretty much been born into social media,” Mr. Ali said.

Samia is now 4 and has 143,000 followers on Instagram and 203,000 subscribers on YouTube. Her feeds are mostly populated with posts of her posing and playing, but they also feature paid promotions for brands like Crayola and HomeStyle Harvest chicken nuggets.

There are instances when “Samia can’t verbatim get the message out,” Mr. Ali, who lives in the Atlanta area, said of the promotional posts. “Sometimes, their talking points are not kid talk, so LaToya would need to appear, or myself, to relay those because those are key deliverables that the brands want.”

Welcome to the world of kidfluencers. Brands have flocked to influencers — individuals, famous or not, with large followings on social media — for years, hoping their online popularity will prompt their fans to buy the products they vouch for. Then child influencers started appearing on their parents’ profiles, a surreal but seemingly harmless offshoot of this phenomenon.

Now, advertisers like WalmartStaples and Mattel are bankrolling lucrative endorsements deals for toddlers and tweens with large followings and their own verified profiles on YouTube and Instagram. As a result, children too young to make their own accounts on the platforms are being turned into tastemakers.

Read the complete article here.

McConnell maintains that Senate won’t take up election reform bill because GOP doesn’t want Americans to vote

From The Hill Online News:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) maintained Wednesday that the upper chamber wouldn’t take up a House election reform bill.

McConnell reiterated his position when pressed about why he has only pledged to bring the progressive Green New Deal to the floor for a vote and not the election reform bill.

“Because I get to decide what we vote on,” McConnell quipped.

The Kentucky senator said earlier this week that House Democrats’ sweeping anticorruption bill, known as H.R. 1, would never become law.

“This sprawling 622-page doorstop is never going to become law. I certainly don’t plan to even bring it to the floor here in the Senate,” McConnell said of the legislation Monday.

The legislation aims to expand voting rights by creating automatic voter registration and making Election Day a national holiday for federal workers.

Read the complete article here.