RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The credit bureau Equifax will pay up to $700 million to consumers over a massive data breach two years ago. That hack exposed the personal information of about 147 million people. That is more than half the adult population of the entire United States.
NPR's Chris Arnold has been following this and joins us now. Hi, Chris.
CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.
MARTIN: So how much of this money is actually going to go to the people who were hurt or affected in some way by that data breach?
ARNOLD: Well, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was part of this, says $425 million will be for, quote, "time and money that people spent to protect themselves from potential threats of identity theft or addressing actual incidents of identity theft as a result of the breach."
And we're reading this morning. The settlement just came out, so we're, you know, thumbing through it, learning things. And people could get up to $20,000 each, it looks like, for lost time and money. You have to apply and document what happened. It looks like they're going to pay people $25 an hour for up to 20 hours for dealing with a whole range of different things - I mean, whether you had your identity stolen and you dealt with that or just...
ARNOLD: ...Signing up for services. And it's unclear, though, like, how people are supposed to know - well, OK, my identity got stolen. Was it because of this breach? I mean, so there's still some unanswered...
ARNOLD: ...Questions about exactly how that will work. But the goal is to reimburse people if they got hurt.
MARTIN: How do you actually do that? How do people try to get reimbursed?
ARNOLD: Well, there's a website, like there often is these days. It's equifaxbreachsettlement.com. These things are often difficult to remember on the radio, so I'm going to say it again - equifaxbreachsettlement.com - no spaces or anything. And assuming the court approves the settlement, people can go there and sign up and do everything they have to do. But we should say that people have to do this within six months if they want to get the benefits.
MARTIN: So a settlement for more than half a billion dollars sounds like a whole lot of money. Is this a win for consumer groups? Are they happy?
ARNOLD: I mean, it depends on who you ask. I mean, some advocates say look; this affected so many people - like you said, more than half the adult population of the United States - and the type of information that the credit bureau's track - it's so potentially damaging they say look; this is not enough. You know, it's ridiculous.
Others say $700 million is not an insignificant amount of money. It's a real bite out of the company's profits. And at least a lot of people are going to get some money back.
MARTIN: Can you just remind us about the breach itself? I mean, there were hearings in Congress when this happened. There were a lot of lawmakers who were very outraged. Why is this breach such a big deal?
ARNOLD: Yeah, I mean, again, first, it's 115 million people, right? So that makes it a big deal. But beyond that, I mean, Equifax affects the financial lives of, you know, almost everybody in this country, right? I mean, it's your credit score. It's your ability to get a mortgage or a car loan.
Companies like this collect data on your financial history. They know if you're paying your bills, how many credit cards you have, what the credit card numbers actually are, your social security number. And this hack exposed that, at least with this one company, they just did not have good enough security. And they're supposed to be, you know, safeguarding all this really sensitive information.
MARTIN: But it's brought up this other issue about what kind of permission people are or are not giving this company, right? I mean, people don't actively sign up for Equifax.
MARTIN: They can order a credit score, and then Equifax dives into their stockpile of all their personal information.
ARNOLD: Yeah. And, I mean, it's in some ways kind of crazy. This is the way it's evolved. And there are just all kinds of information. They have a dossier, basically, on all of us. We don't give permission, so that's why there's just been so much concern that they're not keeping us safe. We should say they're going to spend $1 billion, though, on cybersecurity as part of this settlement.
MARTIN: NPR's Chris Arnold. Thanks, Chris.
ARNOLD: Thanks, Rachel.
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