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September 2010

Internet Confidentiality an Increasing Issue

If you or someone you know likes to “tweet” on Twitter, then you will want to pay attention to this short commentary. In contrast to Research in Motion’s Blackberry, which is being attacked by the Saudi Arabian, Indian, and other governments for its very secure servers that keep users’ transmissions confidential, Twitter agreed to provide all tweets to the Library of Congress beginning October 10, 2010, once they are 24 weeks old (six months) so they are available for historical research.

A tweet is a post or status update on Twitter, a micro blogging service. Twitter only allows messages of 140 characters or less so they are quite short and can be quite creative, with short words and abbreviations being often used to convey much meaning.

The Smithsonian Institution argues that Twitter is part of the historical record of communication, news reporting, and social trends—all of which complement the library’s existing cultural heritage collections. As a Smithsonian member, I greatly appreciate the library’s history collections. However, I prefer that my conversations with others, however short, be kept confidential. If you want to keep your tweet messages confidential, you should consider using the service at www.noloc.org, which will automatically delete tweets after 23 weeks. 

 

Judge Penalizes Large Bank
for Deceptive Business Practices

 

On August 10, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup held in a California class-action lawsuit that Wells Fargo bank had engaged in “unfair and deceptive business practices” by changing its policies to process checks, debit card transactions, and bill payments from the highest dollar amount to the lowest, rather than in the order the transactions took place.” According to the judge, the net result was that Wells Fargo’s customers’ accounts were emptied faster, leading to what the court found was a deliberate process to increase overdraft fees.

In a strongly worded decision, Judge Alsup found Wells Fargo’s principal defenses to be “not credible” and instead determined that Wells Fargo’s policy was “gouging” and “profiteering.” Judge Alsup also noted in his 90-page order that collecting overdraft fees was a big business for Wells Fargo because it made the bank more than $1.4 billion in overdraft penalties between 2005 and 2007 in California alone. He further wrote in his ruling, “These neat tricks generated colossal sums per year in additional overdraft fees, just as the internal bank memos had predicted” and that “[T]he bank went to lengths to hide these practices while promulgating a facade of phony disclosure.”

Judge Alsup ordered the bank to pay $203 million in restitution to its customers. Wells Fargo denied at trial that it was motivated by profit and is expected to appeal the judge’s decision.

Despite extensive checks, I haven’t found a case where a member-owned cooperatively owned credit union was accused—much less found guilty—of similar deceptive business practices by the courts.

 


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