As part of a coalition, Open MIC worked with Microsoft to create stronger policies to fight economic exploitation of its users
Following months of pressure by Open MIC and a coalition of tech, civil rights and policy groups, Microsoft has now quietly released new rules that will curb predatory lenders on its Bing search engine in the U.S. The policy changes are a win for all Bing users, and particularly for low income users who are the intended targets of misleading ads for predatory financial products and services.
Short-term, high-interest payday loans exploit poor people and perpetuate vicious cycles of debt and poverty. Microsoft's new policy sets clear limits for "direct loan providers, lead generators, and those who connect lenders and consumers" and restricts advertisements for a variety of products that work to line the pockets of predatory lenders by deceiving and exploiting buyers.
The revised policy, which prohibits ads for financial services and products that "guarantee" financial return or foreclosure prevention — among other rules — is the result of months of engagement with Open MIC, institutional investors, and a coalition of groups including The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Americans for Financial Reform, the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, the Center for Responsible Lending, and Upturn.
Microsoft's announcement follows on the heels of a similar policy change made first at Google, which banned payday loan ads in May of 2016 after collaborating with a broad coalition of advocates. These commitments from the country's two largest search engine platforms reflect companies' acknowledgement of a growing set of responsibilities around consumer protection and trust. Major internet companies — who once merely provided a platform for user engagement — are increasingly held accountable for protecting users from online harm and setting guidelines around content. Consumers now expect companies to take leadership on a variety of issues related to consumer trust, from restricting payday loan ads to limiting the spread of "fake news."
"Microsoft's new policy demonstrates the company's understanding that it is responsible for protecting its users from online harm and exploitation," said Michael Connor, Executive Director of Open MIC. "These days, consumer trust requires companies to get out ahead of the issues and to establish guidelines for protecting users. Microsoft's choice to ban ads for payday loans and other deceptive products shows the company is willing to take a stand against advertisers who drain the economic power of the most financially vulnerable. This kind of policy is good business, and it's the right thing to do."