Lawmakers weigh how to give consumers more control over personal financial data

WASHINGTON, D.C. — We see them all the time – those long consent agreements before we sign into a mobile app or website, but how often do we really know what we’re agreeing to when it comes to sharing our personal data?

The House Task Force on Financial Technology held a hearing Tuesday to discuss those very privacy concerns and ways to better protect our sensitive information.

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Every time we log on to a banking or credit card app, or if we apply for a loan or mortgage, we are entering our personal and financial information.

“Think about the data that’s being accessed, how sensitive and revealing it is,” said Chi Chi Wu, a Staff Attorney with the National Consumer Law Center.

Members of Congress heard from financial and tech experts who said Congress needs to update the laws and regulations to keep up with evolving technology.

“Consumers deserve more control over their data relative to banks and other financial institutions,” said Raul Carrillo, Deputy Director at the Law and Political Economy Project at Yale Law School. “We must upgrade federal consumer data and privacy laws.”

“Modernizing customer protections would help to reduce risk to consumers and small businesses and create a more level playing field,” said Kelly Thompson Cochran, Deputy Director of FinRegLab.

Witnesses said a major part of protecting consumers comes down to consent and making sure consumers fully understand the terms.

“Meaningful consent cannot exist when people do not know what information they’re revealing or to what end,” said Carrillo. “We should not forfeit our general rights to data privacy simply by clicking agree as industry would often have us believe.”

And then there are questions about how that data is shared once we do agree to hand it over.

“We are tired of tech giants collecting data about us to show creepy personalized ads,” said Wu.

Some of the tech witnesses urged Congress to leave many of the technical aspects of data collecting and sharing up to the industry and to instead have the government provide clearer guidance on user permission and information sharing.

“We need a clear regulatory framework to protect and continue open banking in the U.S.,” said Steve Smith, Co-Founder and CEO of Finicity.

Members of the Task Force said they are currently working on legislation to enhance consumer data privacy protections.

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“There are serious gaps that leave much uncertainty given the transformational technology,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), Chair of the Task Force on Financial Technology.

“Regulators can still provide consumer focused principle-based framework that will allow for innovation and competition,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), Ranking Member of the Task Force on Financial Technology.