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Elizabeth Warren Wants to Turn CFPB Into a Crowd-Sourced Wiki

In my post yesterday about Elizabeth Warren’s early efforts in standing up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, I mentioned her trip to the west coast this week, and her desire for technological solutions to consumer protection challenges. In an interview with the National Journal, Warren goes a bit deeper into that approach, suggesting that the agency could be bolstered through crowd-sourcing:

In an interview on Tuesday with National Journal, Warren said new techniques like crowd-sourcing – scaled-up variations on Wikipedia — make it possible to collect valuable information from millions of ordinary consumers who report problems as they arise. Using new systems to organize and find patterns in all that information, Warren said, the bureau could be able to spot new enforcement targets in a matter of days – an unheard-of response time for traditional regulators […]

It is an entirely new approach for government regulators, but Warren said she believes the opportunities are great.

“It’s also about how we will receive information about how the world works,” she said. “It’s about how people will tell us about what is happening. I want you to think about this more like ‘heat maps’ for targeted zip codes where problems are emerging, or among certain demographic groups, or among certain issuers,” Warren said in her still-not-decorated office.

Essentially, she wants the CFPB to run like a blog. When TPM collects stories from their audience on how Social Security privatization is playing across the country, or when I ask for stories on individual struggles with HAMP, that’s essentially crowd-sourcing. Warren wants to put the power of the federal government behind that.

SIGTARP already has hotlines set up for, among other things, HAMP, and they have collected a wealth of information through that, all in their excellent TARP report here. And individual Congressional offices get information like this through constituent service. Warren seeks to coordinate that and make it easier to contact the government when a mortgage lender or a bank rips you off.

Warren will visit Google this week, in part to work on this vision. I think the only question with it is pick-up; whether people will know to upload their credit card or mortgage statements to the CFPB website, and whether Congressional offices, who get the bulk of this information, will funnel it to CFPB. But if it works, you have a much quicker and more nimble regulator, able to identify and react to problems in Internet time. And it could be a model for adoption across regulatory agencies.

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David Dayen

David Dayen