CFPB warns digital marketing providers must comply with federal consumer funding protections

WASHINGTON DC – Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released an interpretative rule outlining when digital marketing providers for financial businesses must comply with the federal consumer financial protection law. Digital marketers who are involved in the identification or selection of potential customers or the selection or placement of content to affect consumer behavior are generally service providers for the purposes of the law. Digital marketers acting as service providers may be held liable by the CFPB or other law enforcement agencies for engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices, as well as other breaches of protection. consumer finance.

“When Big Tech companies use sophisticated behavioral targeting techniques to market financial products, they must comply with federal consumer financial protection laws,” CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said. “Federal and state law enforcement can and should hold these companies accountable if they break the law.”

Digital marketing providers have transformed advertising. Traditional advertising consists of distributing a product or service to as wide an audience as possible. A traditional marketer, for example, might try to buy time and space for a television commercial on the most-watched station or show. Digital marketers, on the other hand, seek to maximize individuals’ interactions with advertisements. They may harvest personal data to power their behavioral analysis models which may target individuals or groups that they predict are more likely to interact with an advertisement or register for a product or service.

Where digital marketing providers go beyond traditional advertising, they are generally covered by the Consumer Financial Protection Act as service providers. The law contains an exception for companies that only provide time or space for an advertisement for a financial product or service to consumers through print, newspaper or electronic media. However, the CFPB said today that the exception does not cover companies that are materially involved in content strategy development.

Financial companies rely on the expertise and tools of digital marketing providers who offer sophisticated analytical techniques, aided by machine learning and advanced algorithms, to process large amounts of personal data and deliver highly targeted advertisements . Financial companies use behavioral analysis to connect with potential customers. However, depending on how these practices are designed and implemented, behavioral marketing and advertising could expose companies to legal liability.

Today’s rule of interpretation explains:

  • Digital marketers provide material services to financial companies: A material service is a significant or important service. Digital marketing vendors are typically significantly involved in the development of content strategy when identifying or selecting potential customers or selecting or placing content to encourage consumer engagement with advertising. Digital marketers engaged in this type of ad targeting and serving do more than provide ad space and time, and they are not eligible for the “time or space” exception.
  • The CFPB, states, and other consumer protection officials can sue digital marketers to stop violations of consumer financial protection law: Service providers are liable for unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices under consumer financial protection law. When digital marketers act as service providers, they are liable for violations of consumer protection law.

Read today’s interpretation rule, Limited Applicability of Consumer Financial Protection Act “Time or Space” Exception to Digital Marketing Providers.

Consumers can submit complaints about financial products or services by visiting the CFPB website or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372).

Employees who believe their company has violated federal consumer financial protection laws are encouraged to send information about what they know to [email protected]


The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that implements and enforces federal consumer finance law and ensures that markets for consumer financial products are fair, transparent and competitive. For more information, visit

Cathy W. Howerton