Six U.S. businesses have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they deceived consumers by falsely claiming they were abiding by an international privacy framework that provides a means for U.S. companies to transfer data from the European Union to the United States in keeping with EU and U.S. law.
According to six separate complaints filed by the FTC, the six companies deceptively claimed they held current certifications under the EU/U.S. Safe Harbor framework. The framework is a voluntary program administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce in consultation with the European Commission. To participate, a company must self-certify annually to the Department of Commerce that it complies with a defined set of privacy principles.
The FTC complaints charge World Innovators, Inc.; ExpatEdge Partners LLC; Onyx Graphics, Inc.; Directors Desk LLC; Collectify LLC; and Progressive Gaitways LLC with representing that they held current certifications to the Safe Harbor program, even though the companies had allowed their certifications to lapse.
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, security, or other compliance program sponsored by a government or any third party.
Consumers who want to know whether a U.S. company is a participant in the Safe Harbor program can go to http://export.gov/safeharbor to see if the company holds a current self-certification.
These cases are being brought with the invaluable assistance of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The Commission vote to approve the administrative complaints and proposed settlement agreements was 4-0. The FTC will publish an announcement regarding the agreements in the Federal Register shortly. The agreements will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning today and continuing through November 5, 2009, after which the Commission will decide whether to make them final. To file a public comment, please click on the following hyperlink: http://www.ftc.gov/os/2009/10/sixcasespubliccomment.pdf and follow the instructions at that site.
Copies of the complaints, the proposed settlement agreements, and the analyses of the agreements to aid in public comment are available from both the FTC’s Web site
http://www.ftc.gov and the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580.
NOTE: The Commission issues or files a 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. The complaints are not a finding or ruling that the named parties have violated the law. The consent agreements are for settlement purposes only and do not constitute admissions of a law violation. 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 $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 1,700 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.