NCL urges FTC to use rulemaking to protect consumers’ data rights 

November 22, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Consumers League (NCL) this week filed comments in support of a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulation to protect Americans’ data privacy. In its comments, NCL urged the FTC to ensure that consumers have the rights to data confidentiality, access, deletion, portability, and ethical use. Such safeguards are critical for stemming the torrent of privacy abuses that Americans have suffered in the digital age—perpetrated by both corporate and governmental entities. 

“Given our dependency on the internet to conduct our daily lives, the fact that we have gone this long without federal privacy protections is profoundly disappointing. The FTC is doing critical work in initiating this rulemaking process,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “Consumers should not be at risk of identity theft, financial loss, or other privacy intrusions simply by having an internet connection.” 

The League urged the Commission to give special consideration to sensitive data types, such as location and genetic information, as well as students’ data utilized by educational technology companies. 

“With the proliferation of ed-tech, classrooms have become another area of vulnerability regarding privacy. This follows students when they take their school-issued devices and software home with them,” said Eden Iscil, NCL Public Policy Associate. “Ed-tech is a particularly worrying sector as students typically have no choice but to use the technology mandated by their institution, regardless of its insecurity.”

NCL has made fighting for consumers’ privacy a priority. Earlier this year, the League released a slate of proposed genetic privacy rights for policymakers to implement. Additionally, the organization is in its seventh year of publishing the #DataInsecurity Digest, a semi-weekly newsletter containing policy analysis and news coverage related to digital privacy. 

NCL’s full comments to the FTC can be read here. 

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit https://nclnet.org.

Coalition of consumer organizations urge supermarket industry to address “digital discrimination”

November 17, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, (703) 298-2614

This week a coalition of national consumer organizations urged leading supermarket chains to offer alternatives to digital-only discounts. Currently, many senior citizens and lower-income shoppers cannot take advantage of digital-only discounts due to smartphone or internet inaccessibility.

In the past couple of years more and more weekly specials advertised by some supermarkets for meat, fish, poultry, produce, and store-brand items are digital-only deals. They typically require shoppers to first go online to electronically “clip” the offers to add them to their loyalty card account to be charged the sale price in the store.

Because 25 percent of seniors don’t use the internet and 39 percent don’t have smartphones, according to a 2021 study by the Pew Research Center, they are effectively shut out of these deals. Similarly, 43 percent of low-income households lack broadband internet access.

The consumer groups suggested multiple ways that supermarkets can offer an offline alternative to digital-only deals to accommodate both the digitally-disconnected and the digitally-challenged shoppers, which include: 

  •  Utilizing barcoded “clip or click” store coupons in store circulars so the customer can choose their preferred redemption method (e.g., Vons and The Giant Company).
  • Empowering cashiers to charge the digital price upon request.
  • Offering physical store coupons next to digital-only deals for those who did not/could not electronically “clip” the offer (e.g., H-E-B).

The letter to supermarket executives was sent on November 15 to the following chains: Kroger, Albertsons, Stop & Shop, Star Market/Shaw’s, Ralphs, QFC, Jewel Osco, Randalls, Fred Meyer, King Soopers, Smart & Final, and Safeway.

Consumer Action, Consumer Reports, Consumer World, National Consumers League, and U.S. PIRG are the consumer organizations pressing supermarkets to expand the way they offer digital-only deals.

The full letter can be viewed here.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit https://nclnet.org.

NCL Director of Health Policy testifies at Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights on how consolidation in the marketplace harms consumers

June 16, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, D.C. – On Wednesday, June 15, 2022, the National Consumers League’s Director of Health Policy Jeanette Contreras provided oral testimony to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights on how consolidation in the marketplace harms consumers.

In her testimony, Ms. Contreras discussed the importance of consumers having choices for safe goods and services at a fair price, a core principle of NCL’s advocacy work. Touching on several issues impacting consumers in the U.S. – such as the infant formula shortage, consolidation of the airline industry, primary ticketing market for live events, and the unfair business practices of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) – Ms. Contreras reiterated the need for competition in the marketplace and enacting stronger antitrust laws, all of which help protect U.S. consumers.

Her testimony appears below.

June 15, 2022

Good afternoon Chairwoman Klobuchar, Ranking Member Lee, and members of the Subcommittee. My name is Jeanette Contreras. I am the Director of Health Policy at the National Consumers League. I appreciate the opportunity to testify remotely today- due to COVID.

Founded in 1899, NCL is America’s oldest consumer advocacy organization. A core principle of our advocacy is that the marketplace should encourage competition to guarantee that consumers have choices for safe goods and services at a fair price. Monopolies harm competition, leaving consumers with fewer options at higher prices. Monopolistic practices are especially harmful when they occur in the health care arena, where they can exacerbate health disparities.

We share the concerns of new parents regarding the recent shortage of infant formula. Our hearts go out to those parents who have lost babies or whose infants suffered devastating health consequences from contaminated formula. At NCL, we believe all goods and services sold to consumers should be safe and meet all legal requirements- including regulatory guidelines set forth by the FDA.

NCL applauds the FDA and the Administration for adopting a multifaceted approach to increase the supply of infant formula, including temporarily allowing foreign manufacturers to sell their products in the U.S. Additionally, we believe invoking the Defense Production Act to prioritize getting needed inputs to infant formula manufacturers was sound policy. These measures are helping to solve the immediate logistical problem of getting formula onto store shelves across the country.

While addressing the immediate formula shortage is most urgent, we are also troubled that it took the FDA almost four months to act on a whistleblower complaint sent to the agency. This complaint should have received immediate attention given the gravity of the allegations against the Abbott facility. We support a full investigation and, if warranted, bringing criminal and civil charges against those who falsified data. NCL also recommends that the U.S. create a single food safety agency and dedicate an office to overseeing the safety and supply of infant formula.

It should concern every American that one manufacturer controls 40% of the U.S. infant formula market. Only three companies — Abbott, Mead Johnson, and Nestle — control 98% of the industry.

Consolidation in the infant formula industry is a major contributor to the current crisis, but it is only one of many cases where market concentration in recent decades has limited competition and harmed consumers.

For example, NCL continues to raise concerns about the consolidation of the airline industry. Due to weak enforcement of existing antitrust laws, from 2005 to 2015, the number of major U.S. airlines declined from nine to four. And today they control more than 80 percent of the domestic U.S. market.

Our antitrust laws have also failed to protect consumers who attend live events. After merging with Ticketmaster in 2010, Live Nation Entertainment controls roughly 80% of the primary ticketing market in the U.S. As anyone who has purchased tickets recently can attest, this has led to an increase in add-fees and the basic price of tickets.

Stronger antitrust enforcement would be especially beneficial for curtailing anti-competitive conduct in the health care industry, where we’ve seen consolidation lead to higher costs for consumers without an increase in quality or access to care. We are pleased that the Biden administration is looking into how hospital prices increase after acquisitions. We are also hopeful that the ongoing review of DOJ & FTC merger enforcement guidelines will result in more action by those agencies.

NCL also applauds the recent FTC decision to open an investigation into the unfair business practices of pharmacy benefit managers or PBMs. NCL works tirelessly to raise awareness of the outsized role that PBMs play in driving up prescription drug prices for consumers. According to a recent report, the three biggest PBMs controlled roughly 77% of all U.S. prescription drug claims in 2020. And a recent Senate Finance Committee report found some PBMs are getting a 70% rebate on insulin, while out-of-pocket costs for this life-saving medication continue to rise.

These cases are just a few examples of how monopolies and anti-competitive practices have become a problem for consumers. To ensure crises like today’s formula shortage do not happen again, market consolidation must be addressed so that the temporary shutdown of a single factory does not result in the collapse of an entire supply chain.

Whether it is baby formula, airline travel, live event tickets, or pharmaceutical sales, the lack of competition is having increasingly negative impacts on consumer welfare and requires urgent action.

Chairwoman Klobuchar, Ranking Member Lee, thank you for holding today’s hearing and inviting NCL to speak about this important issue. I look forward to answering your questions.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL) 

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

 

Consumer guide to general purpose reloadable cards – National Consumers League


General Purpose Reloadable prepaid cards (GPR) are the fastest growing payment method in the country. They are increasingly popular with consumers who can’t qualify for traditional credit or debit cards or for those who need a convenient way to help them stick to a budget, since the cards generally can’t be overdrawn. While GPR cards have similar uses and even look nearly identical to credit or debit cards, consumers should know that there are important differences in terms of fees and consumer protections.

 

This guide is designed to help consumers learn what makes GPR cards different from other types of plastic cards, about the fees associated with the cards, and understand their rights under the law.

What is a GPR card?
General purpose reloadable prepaid cards (GPR cards) are much like the debit cards that many consumers use. However, they are not linked to a traditional checking account. Consumers can use them to purchase retail items at stores or online, pay bills online, get cash from ATMs, and have paychecks directly deposited onto them. GPR cards can be purchased from retailers like drug stores, grocery stores or check-cashing outlets, bank branches, and online.

  • What is the difference between a GPR card and a bank account debit card?

    • A bank account debit card is linked to your bank’s checking account. GPR cards are not linked to a personal checking account.

    • Your bank account debit card may allow you to spend more than the amount that is in your account if you have opted in to an overdraft service. Prepaid debit cards do not let you spend more money than you have loaded on to a card.

  • What is the difference between a GPR card and a credit card?

    • When you use a GPR card, you are using your own money that you have already loaded on to the card. You can only spend as much money as you have pre-loaded.

    • When using a credit card, you are using borrowed money that you have to pay back at the end of each month (with interest, if you carry a balance). Credit card use is limited by the credit limit on the card.

  • What is the difference between a GPR card and a gift card?

    • GPR cards are reloadable, so when the money on the card is used up, you can add additional funds. Gift cards are often not reloadable.

    • GPR card users can withdraw cash from their cards at an ATM. Gift card holders cannot.

  • What is the difference between a GPR card and a payroll card?

    • A payroll card is an alternative to paper checks and to bank account direct deposits. Your employer can load your pay directly to a payroll card.

    • Payroll cards are provided by employers to their workers and are not typically marketed or purchasable by consumers. GPR cards are marketed to consumers and available for purchase by the general public.

For tips on how to protect the right GPR card for you, click here.