Today, the CFPB is suing ACTIVE Network, a payments platform used by families across the country to sign up for community activities, including camps and events sponsored by the YMCA, Girl Scouts, and charity race organizers.
While not a household name, millions of Americans have used ACTIVE Network’s payment and registration platform. For anyone who has walked for the cure, run for the cause, or sent their child to camp, they may have paid or donated through this company.
ACTIVE Network portrays itself as a supporter of the community. The picture it paints on its website is one full of children playing soccer, runners crossing the finish line, and camp counselors smiling big.
However, the CFPB’s investigation revealed that ACTIVE Network engaged in a yearslong campaign that used dark patterns to cram junk fees onto the annual bills of families signing up for community activities. The CFPB’s complaint filed in federal court describes how ACTIVE Network drove up enrollments using sophisticated design techniques to enroll families in membership programs they did not even want.
Our lawsuit illustrates several areas of focus for the CFPB.
First, we are closely watching whether financial services firms are deploying digital dark patterns. Dark patterns are design features used to deceive, steer, or manipulate users into behavior that is profitable for a company, but often harmful to users or contrary to their intent. In addition to this lawsuit, we have also sued TransUnion for illegally signing up consumers for credit monitoring. We have also worked to give designers and other tech workers more tools to serve as industry whistleblowers.
Second, we are looking at a range of ways to reduce unwanted junk fees. Too many consumers are finding that they are charged fees for so-called services that they did not want or provide no value at all. Our lawsuit today is part of that effort.
Finally, we are working to ensure our payments system is working safely and fairly. Technology should help Americans make payments seamlessly and know how much they are transferring and to whom. We will continue to look at how payment platforms extract data and fees from their users.