Annual Highlights 2013

Policy

The FTC works to advance government policies that promote competition and protect consumers.

Introduction

policy papers

In addition to conducting an aggressive enforcement program, the agency files advocacy comments; files amicus briefs to aid in court deliberations; gives Congressional testimony; solicits and reviews public comments regarding rules, cases, and policies; issues advisory opinions; conducts workshops; and publishes reports that examine cutting-edge antitrust and consumer protection issues. The FTC also works with state, local and community-based organizations throughout the nation, and competition and consumer protection agencies around the world to promote cooperation and sound policy approaches. We have strong relationships with our counterparts at home and abroad, and help countries develop and enhance their competition and consumer protection programs.

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Advocacy Comments

The Commission continues to provide guidance and recommendations to policy makers on how best to incorporate competition principles into regulatory decision-making. In the health care area, staff issued advocacy comments to legislators in Connecticut, Illinois, and Massachusetts addressing scope of practice of non-physician health care professionals and collective bargaining by health care providers. The staff also submitted a comment to the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation regarding proposed accreditation standards for Dental Therapy Education Programs.

The Commission has revisited a topic that was the focus of competition policy recommendations in the late 1980’s: local taxicab regulations. The widespread use of smartphones is transforming local markets for passenger vehicle transportation services. For instance, in written comments to the District of Columbia Taxicab Commission (DCTC), FTC staff noted that recent DC legislation appears designed to facilitate new and beneficial forms of competition for the services, but expressed concern that some of the subsequent rules proposed by DCTC may unnecessarily impede competition. The staff comments recommend that DCTC avoid unwarranted regulatory restrictions on competition, and that any regulations should be no broader than necessary to address legitimate public safety and consumer protection concerns.

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Amicus Briefs

The Commission submits amicus briefs when appropriate to encourage legal developments that permit robust law enforcement for the benefit of consumers. For instance, the Commission filed an amicus brief in a private case to address the application of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in FTC v. Actavis to a patent settlement containing a “no-authorized-generic” commitment. The Commission also has filed amicus briefs regarding the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act in several private cases, including Delgado v. Capital Management Services, LP in which the Seventh Circuit held that it is unlawful for collectors to lead consumers to believe that they can face legal action for a debt even though the statute of limitations for suing to collect has expired.

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Congressional Testimony

Congressional panels often ask FTC Commissioners and staff to testify about the agency’s activities and to provide expertise on topics related to consumer protection and business competition. Whether the subject is data brokers or robocalls, standard essential patents or the availability of generic drugs, or old-fashioned fraud against service members or older consumers, testimony given on behalf of the Commission shines a light on issues of importance to our nation’s lawmakers and consumers. See testimony offered during 2013 — and for the statements offered by our Commissioners and staff.

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Workshops and Public Forums

workshop panel

Hosting workshops on emerging business practices and technologies is another example of how the Commission advances its competition and consumer protection missions. The FTC convenes fellow regulators and enforcement partners, as well as industry representatives, consumer advocates and academics for lively, informative and often groundbreaking discussions of the policy, enforcement and outreach challenges posed by current issues.

During 2013, the agency hosted a series of consumer protection events dealing with various aspects of technology, from mobile security issues and mobile cramming to the Internet of Things and online native advertising. In February 2014, the Commission held a workshop to explore competition issues involving biologic medicines and follow-on biologics. Biologic medicines comprise the fastest-growing sector of pharmaceuticals and target such difficult-to-treat diseases as cancer, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. Workshop presentations were provided by a wide range of experts in the research, development, commercialization and sale of biosimilar and interchangeable follow-on biologic medicines. Two panels discussed how state regulations may impact competition of follow-on biologics and how naming conventions may impact competition of follow-on biologics. View the complete FTC event calendar.

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Reports

Commission and staff reports synthesize information from divergent viewpoints in 2013 report covers an effort to offer insights into FTC policy and often, a roadmap to enforcement actions. During 2013, these reports provided examinations into hot topics in a variety of industries, from online advertising to data integrity in debt collection. Indeed, our 2013 revision of Dot Com Disclosures underscores the fact that regardless of the platform or device consumers use to view ads, well established truth-in-advertising principles apply. See reports issued during the year on mobile payments and transparency in mobile privacy disclosures, as well as competition issues.

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Legal Services Collaboration

The FTC’s innovative Legal Services Collaboration enables us reach out to community-based organizations throughout the nation to learn about consumer protection problems affecting low wage earners — people who are often underserved. These partnerships inform our law enforcement priorities and the development of consumer education in new styles and a variety of languages; they also allow us to provide information quickly to legal services providers who in turn, help alert local communities about scams. The FTC also provides training for legal services providers, and develops resources to support their work. For example, staff worked with the National Council of American Indians to write and design resources for tribal leaders to use through the Native Financial Education Coalition (NFEC). FTC staff now serves on NFEC’s Advisory Council. In April 2013, we released a video on how pro bono lawyers can help victims of identity theft.

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International Partners Collaboration

With over 130 jurisdictions enforcing competition laws, the FTC continues to lead efforts to develop strong mutual enforcement cooperation and sound policy with its international partners. We continue to strengthen cooperation and coordination with agencies to reach compatible results on cases of mutual interest, such as Thermo Fisher/Life Technologies, in which the FTC recently cooperated with antitrust agencies in nine jurisdictions to reach consistent results. We also work to develop improved tools to facilitate cooperation. This year, FTC and Department of Justice Antitrust Division staff jointly released a model waiver of confidentiality that is designed to streamline the waiver negotiation process,International Competition Network logo facilitating deeper communication between cooperating agencies. During the past year the FTC held bilateral meetings with key partners, including competition agencies in the EU, Canada, Mexico, Japan, China and India, and continued to play a lead role in the International Competition Network, including co-leading the Agency Effectiveness Working Group and its Investigative Process Project.

In the consumer protection area, the FTC continues to focus on combatting cross-border consumer fraud. This year, the FTC, with the help of counterparts in Canada, Slovakia, and Austria, brought an action against a notorious multi-million dollar international business directory scam in FTC v. Construct Data. Building on the FTC’s work with African consumer agencies, the FTC signed a memorandum of understanding with Nigeria’s Consumer Protection Council and its Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

The FTC also continued its leading role in international discussions of data privacy issues. It advocated for global interoperability and strong privacy enforcement in the OECD, which issued new privacy guidelines in July, and in the APEC, which continued to develop a cross-border privacy rules system. The FTC, with the Department of Commerce, also engaged in discussions with the European Commission on improving the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework while vigorously enforcing the existing framework by bringing 13 new actions alleging Safe Harbor violations. The FTC strengthened its enforcement cooperation, signing two new MOUs, one with Ireland’s Office of the Data Protection Commissioner and another with the United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office, and participating in the Global Privacy Enforcement Network’s privacy enforcement sweep by sending warning letters to 10 data broker companies about possible violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Continuing its robust program of international competition and consumer protection technical assistance, the Commission conducted 43 missions in 27 countries, including China, Colombia, India, Russia, South Africa, and Vietnam. In addition, through its innovative International Fellows program, the FTC hosted 10 consumer protection and competition officials from nine countries.

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