And the Financial Institution Most Likely to Be Late Responding to a Consumer Complaint Is . . .

One day last spring, I saw in a Google alert that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) had announced that it was for the first time making public a consumer complaint database.  At the time, I was teaching a course in Empirical Law & Economics at Yale and decided to call an audible.  I came into class that day and projected the raw data (which you can see for yourself by clicking here) and asked the class how we might make use of the information.

With incredible dispatch, Jeff Lingwall and Sonia Steinway merged the complaint data with other datasets and together we started to put together an initial draft analyzing the complaint information.  When the CFPB made the database public, they actively encouraged “the public, including consumers, analysts, developers, data scientists, civic hackers, and companies that serve consumers, to analyze, augment, and build on the public database to develop ways for consumers to access the complaint data or mash it up with other public data sets.”  This paper is our attempt to respond to the Bureau’s call to action.

Is the "Bing It On" Challenge Lightweight?

Microsoft has now responded, with a blog post and a letter, to my post about an experimental study that I coauthored with Yale Law School students Emad Atiq, Sheng Li, Michelle Lu, Christine Tsang, and Tom Maher.  Our paper calls into question the validity of claims that people prefer Bing nearly two to one.

In response to several commenters: I do not work for and do not have any consulting relationship with Google.

Microsoft claims that our study is flawed because it relied on their own blind comparison website.  They now say that "Bing It On" is meant to be a "lightweight way to challenge people’s assumptions about which search engine actually provides the best results."  To be sure, companies often use fantastical or humorous scenarios for free advertising. However, Microsoft’s television commercials present the site as a credible way that people can learn whether they prefer Google or Bing.  These commercials show people who discover that they really prefer Bing to Google.  The challenge site that they created is either sufficient to provide insights into consumer preferences or it isn’t.  The advertisements give the impression that the challenge site is a useful tool.  Microsoft can’t have it both ways.  If it is a sufficient tool to “challenge people’s assumptions,” then it is sufficient to provide some evidence about whether the assumed preference for Google is accurate. 

Should I Send $550 Back to Ford?

My family liked our new Ford C-Max hybrid so much that we bought a second one just a few months later.  But in between the two purchases, I learned something that made me think that in buying the second car I might also be buying a cause of action. 

Before the second purchase, I learned that Richard Pitkin of Roseville, Calif., had brought suit against Ford for overstating the C-Max’s fuel efficiency.  It apparently is too good to be true that a C-Max can achieve 47 mpg both in the city and on the highway.  

Sure enough, two weeks ago, two $550 checks arrived in the mail because Ford had dropped its official mileage estimate from 47mpg to 43mpg.  Ford calls the money a "goodwill payment." 

Challenging the Bing-It-On Challenge

Did you find this blog post through Bing?  Probably not—67% of worldwide searches go through Google, 18% through Bing.  But Microsoft has advertised in a substantial TV campaign that -- in the cyber analog to blind taste testing -- people prefer Bing “nearly 2:1.”  A year ago, when I first saw these ads,  the 2-1 claim seemed implausible.  I would have thought the search results of these competitors would be largely identical, and that it would be hard for people to distinguish between the two sets of results, much less prefer one kind 2:1.

When I looked into the claim a bit more, I was slightly annoyed to learn that the “nearly 2:1” claim is based on a study of just 1,000 participants.  To be sure, I’ve often published studies with similarly small datasets, but it’s a little cheeky for Microsoft to base what might be a multi-million dollar advertising campaign on what I’m guessing is a low six-figure study. 

To make matters worse, Microsoft has refused to release the results of its comparison website,  More than 5 million people have taken the Bing-It-On challenge – which is the cyber analog to a blind taste test.  You enter in a search term and the Bing It On site return two panels with de-identified Bing and Google results (randomly placed on the right or left side of the screen).  You tell the site which side’s results you prefer and after 5 searches the site reveals whether you prefer Bing or Google. (See Below)

Microsoft’s soft ads encourage users to join the millions of people who have taken the challenge, but it will not reveal whether the results of the millions are consistent with the results of the 1,000.

When Should You Use a Condom?

Recently I spoke about condom use at TedxYale. It's based on the article "A Separate Crime of Reckless Sex" I co-authored with Katharine K. Baker.

A Conservative Wishtory of the United States

My friend Jack Hitt has a funny piece in The New Yorker listing misstatements about American history by conservative politicians, beginning with these doozies: 

1500s: The American Revolutionary War begins: “The reason we fought the revolution in the sixteenth century was to get away from that kind of onerous crown.”—Rick Perry

1607: First welfare state collapses: “Jamestown colony, when it was first founded as a socialist venture, dang near failed with everybody dead and dying in the snow.”—Dick Armey

1619-1808: Africans set sail for America in search of freedom: “Other than Native Americans, who were here, all of us have the same story.”—Michele Bachmann

1775: Paul Revere “warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms, by ringing those bells and making sure as he was riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.”—Sarah Palin

1775: New Hampshire starts the American Revolution: “What I love about New Hampshire… You’re the state where the shot was heard around the world.”—Michele Bachmann

[Ed. note: One of these claims seems much closer to being true: see page 1336-38 of Property in Land].

Freakonomics Nation: can we produce an analogous list of historical misstatements by liberal pols? We’ll give out some Freakonomics swag to a clear winner or two. 

Peter Cramton: Medicare Auction Gadfly

My friend and co-author Peter Cramton continues his two-year crusade to improve the workings of “Medicare’s Bizarre Auction Program.”  You can watch his YouTube testimony before the United States House Committee on Small Business here.

(See also his Oral TestimonyTranscript of HearingVideo of Entire Hearing.)

Peter’s supplemental comments are particularly devastating in rebutting two claims of Lawrence Wilson, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Director of the Chronic Care Group:

CMS [claim]: “CMS worked closely with stakeholders to design and implement the program.”

Mr. Wilson. “CMS worked closely with stakeholders to design and implement the program in a way that is fair for suppliers and sensitive to the needs of beneficiaries.”

When Is It Inconsiderate to Press A Crosswalk Button?

I have no problem with pedestrians pressing crosswalk buttons when they wait for the crossing light to change before crossing the intersection.  Crossing lights and crosswalk buttons serve important safety function at busy intersections especially for disabled or elderly pedestrians who need a bit more time crossing the street.

But some pedestrians press the button with a conditional intention to cross the street before the crossing light changes if there is a break in the traffic.  One often sees pedestrians approach an intersection, press the button, and then immediately cross the street, before the crossing light changes. 

The pedestrian probably reasons a) “I have a right to press the button";  and b) having pushed it, I now see I can walk without inconveniencing anyone because there aren’t any cars coming.

Timing Matters for Armstrong, Clemens and Lin

One of the great lessons of contracts (and of the law more generally) is that the timing of actions can dramatically change legal consequences.  An offeree who says “I accept” a moment after the offer is withdrawn is in a very different position than an offeree who says the same thing a moment before an attempt to withdrawn.

This past summer three sports stories seemed to turn on matters of timing. Les Carpenter writes that Lance Armstrong could have avoided is downfall if he had stayed retired:

The irony is that Armstrong could have remained a hero. He could have been a saint, as well as a beacon of light to millions who never would have thought he had cheated throughout his career. All he had to do was stay retired.

UK Game Show Golden Balls: A New Solution to the Prisoner’s Dilemma

Several years ago, Felix Oberholzer-Gee, Joel Waldfogel and Matthew W. White, published a fascinating empirical article about the prisoner’s dilemma game embedded in the short-lived U.S. game show “Friend or Foe.”  Their core findings:

Using data from two seasons of a television game show, we provide evidence about how individuals implement conditionally cooperative preferences. We show that (1) contestants forgo large sums of money to be cooperative, (2) players cooperate at heightened levels when their opponents are predictably cooperative, and (3) players whose observable characteristics predict less cooperation fare worse (monetarily) over time, as opponents avoid cooperating with them. 

I always thought it might be nice to update the study to test to see whether different kinds of “cheap talk” were more or less effective in establishing cooperation.