7 posts from August 2018

Facebook: the new Credit Reporting Agency?

posted by Adam Levitin

Facebook, it seems, has developed a system of rating users trustworthiness. It's not clear if this is just a system for internal use or if users' trustworthiness scores are for sale to third parties, but if the latter, then would sure seem that Facebook is a Consumer Reporting Agency and subject to CRA provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

FCRA defines a CRA as

any person which, for monetary fees, dues, or on a cooperative nonprofit basis, regularly engages in whole or in part in the practice of assembling or evaluating consumer credit information or other information on consumers for the purpose of furnishing consumer reports to third parties, and which uses any means or facility of interstate commerce for the purpose of preparing or furnishing consumer reports.

A consumer report is, in turn, defined as:
 
any written, oral, or other communication of any information by a consumer reporting agency bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living which is used or expected to be used or collected in whole or in part for the purpose of serving as a factor in establishing the consumer’s eligibility for [credit, insurance, employment or government license].
 
Thus, if Facebook is selling information about a consumer's general reputation—trustworthiness—to third parties that might reasonably be expected to use it for credit, insurance, or employment, it's a CRA, and that means it's subject to a host of regulatory requirements as well as civil liability, including statutory damages for willful noncompliance.
 
Facebook is hardly the only tech company that might be a CRA--I've written about this in regard to Google previously.  While Facebook has a bunch of money transmitter licenses and knows it is in the consumer finance space on payments, I suspect it hasn't thought about this from the data perspective.  Indeed, I don't think tech companies think about the possibility that they might be CRAs because we think of CRAs as being firms like Equifax that specialize in being CRAs, but FCRA's definition is broader.  If I collect data on you that I sell to third parties for employment or insurance or credit purposes, I'm a CRA.  Once one plays in consumer data, it's pretty easy to fall into the world of consumer finance regulation. Welcome to a very different Social Network, Mr. Zuckerberg. 
 
Update:  Having just read Alan White's post about Thomson Reuters selling data to ICE, it makes me wonder more generally about the applicability of the FCRA to any firm that sells browsing history to parties that use it for credit, insurance, or employment.  I suspect that's a more aggressive of a reading of FCRA than a court would accept, but the statutory language is pretty broad, and perhaps it gets a party to discovery.

Corporate Bankruptcy as a Public-Private Partnership

posted by Melissa Jacoby

I have just posted on the Social Science Research Network a forthcoming article called Corporate Bankruptcy Hybridity. Although the article has several intersecting objectives, today's post focuses on the first aim: conceptualizing corporate bankruptcy as a public-private partnership.  A public-private partnership, most plainly stated is "a legal hybrid which possesses some characteristics of a purely private corporation and others of a purely government.... however it is structured, it is formed to accomplish a public purpose."* As writings of scholars outside of bankruptcy make clear, the fact that a system relies in part on private actors and private funds does not absolve the system of its obligation to the public's broader constitutional, democratic, and welfare aims. In other words, even if a system is driven by a particular public purpose, other public objectives remain salient.

Reframing the system in this fashion explicitly rejects the common assumption that bankruptcy is best understood as a species of private law, as well as the belief that a workable theory requires that the bankruptcy system have only one public purpose.

In addition to enhancing scholarly debates, considering corporate bankruptcy a public-private partnership has real-world implications - most notably, helping reformers (statutory and otherwise) think creatively about the institutional actors and structures that can respond to identified problems, such as the problems carefully documented in the ABI Commission to Study the Reform of Chapter 11. The range of interventions described and prescribed in administrative law and related privatization scholarship is considerably broader than in reform projects such as the National Bankruptcy Review Commission or the ABI Chapter 11 Commission Report.

Of course, the article elaborates on these points, and I hope to highlight other objectives of Corporate Bankruptcy Hybridity in future posts. But in the meantime, I'd love it if you downloaded and read the article.

* This definition comes from an article published in 1969 by Robert Amdursky.

Westlaw: A Digital Deportation Machine?

posted by Alan White

Lawyers and legal academics may be surprised to learn that Thomson Reuters, owners of the Westlaw electronic law library, sells its data to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, and reserves the right in its privacy policy to share browsing history and search terms with law enforcement agencies. My colleague Sarah Lamdan explores the ethical issues for lawyers and the legal publishers in a recent paper, "When Westlaw Fuels ICE Surveillance: Ethics in the Big Data Policing Era." 

Some Thoughts on the Alter Ego Ruling in Crystallex

posted by Mark Weidemaier

I have had a bit of time to digest the district court’s ruling that PDVSA is Venezuela’s alter ego, and here are some preliminary thoughts. The opinion is 75 pages and covers a lot of ground, but I’ll focus on perhaps the most important and least technical question: Is the case a one-off or a harbinger? Put differently, assuming the ruling stands after appeal and further proceedings in the district court, does it definitively establish that PDVSA is Venezuela’s alter ego? If so, the ruling could have important consequences for a future attempt to restructure the debts of both entities.

The answer isn’t clear. Or rather, it depends whether one wants a formal or a functional answer. Formally, the decision is a one-off; it need not have implications for future alter ego determinations. Functionally, however, the decision creates real risks for PDVSA and the government.

Continue reading "Some Thoughts on the Alter Ego Ruling in Crystallex " »

Court Lets Crystallex Attach Equity in CITGO Parent

posted by Mark Weidemaier

[Edit: Here is the opinion, with redactions related to the OFAC license.]

Just a quick post for now, as the court is keeping its opinion under seal for the time being. Crystallex, a creditor of Venezuela, has been trying to enforce its claims by attaching PDVSA's equity interest in PDV Holding, the ultimate U.S. parent of CITGO. For more background, there have been a number of posts already here on Credit Slips. The district judge overseeing the action in Delaware has just granted Crystallex's request.

I'll have more to say once the opinion becomes public, although portions will undoubtedly be redacted in that version. The secrecy seems to be associated with an OFAC license obtained by a third party (presumably the entity financing this litigation), which Crystallex believes authorizes attachment notwithstanding U.S. sanctions against Venezuela. Those sanctions require OFAC authorization for "attachment of an equity interest in any entity in which the Government of Venezuela has a 50 percent or greater ownership interest" (see FAQ 596) and define "Government of Venezuela" broadly to include PDVSA. I assume the redactions will mostly affect this part of the opinion.

Even more important, the opinion will have to explain why Crystallex, a creditor of Venezuela, can attach PDVSA's property. Presumably the reason is that the court has found the two entities to be alter egos. If so, that's an important ruling that may have much broader consequences in any attempted restructuring of PDVSA or Republic debt.

Edit: I should add that the fact that the court has issued the writ does not necessarily mean Crystallex will immediately be allowed to execute. Leaving aside any delay associated with appeal, the district judge has previously distinguished the decision to issue the writ from the decision to allow execution. Any attempt to execute the writ will also raise new questions. For instance, must there be an attempt to sell the shares? If not, how should the shares be valued (since Crystallex is only entitled to receive the amount of its judgment plus interest)?

Older Americans’ Rising Bankruptcy Filings

posted by Pamela Foohey

Older Americans (age 65 and over) are increasingly likely to file bankruptcy and now comprise a larger proportion of the people who file bankruptcy -- and the effects are not small. Using data from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, in a new working paper just posted to SSRN -- Graying of U.S. Bankruptcy: Fallout from Life in a Risk Society -- my co-authors (past Slipster Debb Thorne, Slipster Bob Lawless, and past Slipster Katie Porter) and I find a more than two-fold increase between 1991 and now in the rate at which older Americans file bankruptcy. We further find an almost five-fold increase in the percentage of older persons in the bankruptcy system. The magnitude of growth in older Americans in bankruptcy is so large that the broader trend of an aging U.S. population can explain only a small portion of the effect.

In the paper, we link older Americans’ increased filing rates with the shrinking social safety net. A story published today in the New York Times (on actual paper and on the front page!) does an exceptional job of both describing our study and detailing the ways in which the risks of aging have been off-loaded onto older Americans: “vanishing pensions, soaring medical expenses, inadequate savings.” The story also highlights the financial and life travails of a few older Americans who filed bankruptcy. Their struggles stem from declining income, lost insurance, and unmanageable medical expenses.   

Continue reading "Older Americans’ Rising Bankruptcy Filings" »

MoviePass Bankruptcy Watch

posted by Adam Levitin

The financial travails of MoviePass and its parent company Helios & Matheson caught my eye today. I almost never go to see movies in theaters, so MoviePass was an unfamiliar business to me, but the basic idea is that the consumer pays an upfront subscription fee and then MoviePass provides an unlimited number of tickets for the consumer (although one per show, and more recently with various additional restrictions):  basically an all-you-can-eat buffet model applied to movies.  The buffet model requires the Jack Sprats of the world to subsidize their wives:  those who go to the counter once and get low-cost foods are subsidizing those who make multiple trips for the foie gras, etc.  The buffet model can work for a few reasons. First, there is a limit to how much anyone (except Joey Chestnut) can eat.  Second, people often go to restaurants in groups, which means that there will be some Jack Sprat wives in the mix.  Third, there are sales of other items (drinks, liquor) that can offset the buffet to the extent it's a loss leader.  And fourth, the buffet can be priced high enough that it won't lose too much money.

MoviePass doesn't seem to have many of these factors working in its favor.  People can watch a lot more movies in a month than they can make trips to a buffet table in an evening. There's going to be an adverse selection of heavy users among subscribers, and they don't bring along Jack Sprat wives--the extra business of friends who come to the theater doesn't go to MoviePass, but to the theaters.  And MoviePass doesn't have much in the way of other sale items to offset losses on tickets.  OK, so we've got a really bad business model that will only work if lots of people sign up, but don't actually go to the movies.  This strikes me as different from other subscription models, like gyms.  People are likely to overestimate their likelihood of going to the gym. My guess is that they are much less likely to overestimate how often they'll go to the movies. 

Well, this is all very interesting, but what does it have to do with Credit Slips?  Three things, I think, one dealing with payment systems and secured lending, and the other two dealing with bankruptcy, which seems to be where this is all headed (assuming that MoviePass is not run out of a bankruptcy remote entity). 

Continue reading "MoviePass Bankruptcy Watch" »

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  • As a public service, the University of Illinois College of Law operates Bankr-L, an e-mail list on which bankruptcy professionals can exchange information. Bankr-L is administered by one of the Credit Slips bloggers, Professor Robert M. Lawless of the University of Illinois. Although Bankr-L is a free service, membership is limited only to persons with a professional connection to the bankruptcy field (e.g., lawyer, accountant, academic, judge). To request a subscription on Bankr-L, click here to visit the page for the list and then click on the link for "Subscribe." After completing the information there, please also send an e-mail to Professor Lawless (rlawless@illinois.edu) with a short description of your professional connection to bankruptcy. A link to a URL with a professional bio or other identifying information would be great.

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