FTC Settles with Twelve Companies Falsely Claiming to Comply with International Safe Harbor Privacy Framework

For Release

Twelve U.S. businesses have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they falsely claimed they were abiding by an international privacy framework known as the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor that enables U.S. companies to transfer consumer data from the European Union to the United States in compliance with EU law.

The companies settling with the FTC represent a cross-section of industries, including retail, professional sports, laboratory science, data broker, debt collection, and information security. The companies handle a variety of consumer information, including in some instances sensitive data about health and employment. The twelve companies are:

“Enforcement of the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework is a Commission priority. These twelve cases help ensure the integrity of the Safe Harbor Framework and send the signal to companies that they cannot falsely claim participation in the program,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez.

According to the twelve complaints filed by the FTC, the companies deceptively claimed they held current certifications under the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor framework and, in three of the complaints, also deceptively claimed certifications under the U.S.-Swiss Safe Harbor framework. The U.S.-EU and U.S.-Swiss Safe Harbor frameworks are voluntary programs administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce in consultation with the European Commission and Switzerland, respectively.  To participate, a company must self-certify annually to the Department of Commerce that it complies with the seven privacy principles required to meet the EU’s adequacy standard: notice, choice, onward transfer, security, data integrity, access, and enforcement. A participant in the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor framework may also highlight for consumers its compliance with the Safe Harbor by displaying the Safe Harbor certification mark on its website.

The FTC complaints charge each company with representing, through statements in their privacy policies or display of the Safe Harbor certification mark, that they held current Safe Harbor certifications, even though the companies had allowed their certifications to lapse. The Commission alleged that this conduct violated Section 5 of the FTC Act. However, this does not necessarily mean that the company committed any substantive violations of the privacy principles of the Safe Harbor frameworks.

Under the proposed settlement agreements, which are subject to public comment, the companies are prohibited from misrepresenting the extent to which they participate in any privacy or data security program sponsored by the government or any other self-regulatory or standard-setting organization.

Consumers who want to know whether a U.S. company is a participant in the U.S-EU or U.S.-Swiss Safe Harbor program may visit http://export.gov/safeharbor to see if the company holds a current self-certification.

These cases are being brought with the valuable assistance of the U.S. Department of Commerce. These companies were also the subject of complaints filed in 2013 by Chris Connolly and Galexia, Inc.

The Commission votes to accept the consent agreement packages containing the proposed consent orders for public comment were 4-0. The FTC will publish descriptions of the consent agreement packages in the Federal Register shortly. The agreements will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning today and continuing through Feb. 20, 2014, after which the Commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent orders final. Interested parties can submit written comments electronically or in paper form by following the instructions in the “Invitation To Comment” part of the “Supplementary Information” section. Comments in electronic form should be submitted using the following Web links:

Comments in paper form should be mailed or delivered to: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, Room H-113, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580. The FTC is requesting that any comment filed in paper form near the end of the public comment period be sent by courier or overnight service, if possible, because U.S. postal mail in the Washington area and at the Commission is subject to delay due to heightened security precautions.

NOTE: The Commission issues an administrative complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $16,000.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

Contact Information

MEDIA CONTACT:
Jay Mayfield
Office of Public Affairs
202-326-2181

STAFF CONTACT:
Katherine White
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-2878

Katherine Race Brin
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-2106

Jessica Lyon
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-2344