Industry Leaders Meet on Capitol Hill

A couple of weeks ago, dot818 traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of the Senate Commerce Committee about Google’s short-term loan regulations.

On Nov. 14, our Vice President of Client Development, Bill Swift, joined with other industry leaders to meet with members of the Senate Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill. The purpose of the meetings was to discuss the challenge consumers currently face in finding short-term loan products as a result of Google’s advertising policies.

The meetings took place ahead of the upcoming confirmation hearings for the three Trump Administration nominees to the FTC. The goal was to convey the negative ramifications that Google’s advertising policies have on consumers’ access to credit. We asked those present to raise these concerns with the nominees during the confirmation hearings.

The group explained that in July of 2016, Google changed its AdWords Financial Services Policy, prohibiting companies from advertising loans with an APR of more than 36 percent or with a maturity fewer than 60 days.

Google claims that this change is intended to protect its users from "deceptive or harmful financial products," and is based on research showing that these loans "can result in unaffordable payment and high default rates."

During the meetings, our group demonstrated how Google’s advertising policies are harming the consumer. Below are the key talking points that we discussed:

  1. The policy has kept reputable lenders and marketing agencies from offering legal, regulated products to consumers. It has also allowed “bad actors” (who, in many cases, are mining consumer data for non-loan related purposes, such as for shopping clubs and credit repair companies) to run rampant at the top listings when a consumer searches for a loan product. The consumer is most of the time unaware of these companies’ intentions, or that they are at a significant risk for identity theft.
  2. A complaint hotline operated by the Online Lenders Association has seen a significant increase in calls since the Google policy went live in July of 2016. Most of the calls are from consumers who are looking for loans but can no longer find them in through a Google search.
  3. In an unprecedented move, the Google policy has essentially banned an entire industry from offering legal, regulated products that have been around for decades.
  4. Although Google is a private company and legally has the right to makes its policies, it controls 95 percent of mobile search traffic. Allowing Google to implement such policies sets a bad precedent, namely by allowing a company in the private sector to decide what products a consumer should be able to access. Other industries such as healthcare, banking, etc., could be affected next if the FTC does not take action. 

Both Republicans and Democrats were engaged in the meetings, asked a lot of questions, and were interested in learning more, especially about how Google was limiting consumer access to credit. We heard from several of the Senate offices that Google was already on the FTC’s radar because of its data collection and usage practices.  Most of the offices were appreciative of us bringing this policy to their attention, and they promised to share the information with the Senators directly, before the confirmation hearings.