It’s National Small Business Week, a time when we celebrate the businesses that make our communities thrive. For the FTC, it’s an opportunity to let business owners know that when it comes to protecting your business from cyber threats, you’re not alone. The federal government has resources to help you address common cyber threats and create a culture of cybersecurity at your company. The materials at FTC.gov/Cybersecurity were introduced last year in cooperation with DHS, NIST, and the SBA.
Where do entrepreneurs go if they’re long on ideas, but short on capital? In their short history, crowdfunding platforms have often been the financial sparkplug that ignites the engine of innovation. But some campaigners promote zealously and deliver zilch. According to the FTC, a company raised over $800,000 in four crowdfunding campaigns for a high-tech backpack and other items, but used a large portion of the money on personal expenses.
Kids love to play dress-up, but parents wouldn’t want them rummaging through the attic or climbing to the top shelf of the wardrobe without permission and proper supervision. The i-Dressup.com website offered users – including children – a virtual way to play dress-up and design clothes without those potential dangers.
Suppose a lunch companion says, “I think there’s something wrong with this tuna salad.” To determine if the problem is tuna not to their taste vs. tuna gone bad, would you scarf it down? Probably not. Now remove tuna salad from the example and substitute a web browser extension. (Stay with us here.) Let’s say you’ve been warned that an unknown extension could be used for fraud. Should you download it and let it marinate in your company’s network?
Whether you’re starting a business or trying to grow one, there’s one thing you need to take it to the next level: capital. Entrepreneurs look to traditional lenders, of course, but they’re also turning to the online marketplace to find small business financing. What types of products are available? What are the benefits and the consumer protection considerations?
When a company settles a case with the FTC, it’s not just water under the bridge. An FTC administrative order includes provisions designed to prevent similar deceptive or unfair practices in the future – and violations of those orders may result in civil penalties. The FTC just announced a proposed settlement with Georgia-based iSpring Water Systems for violating a 2017 order related to the company’s Made in USA claims.
“There is nothing new under the sun.” It’s from the Book of Ecclesiastes and who are we to disagree? So even when innovative products enter the market – for example, new platforms offering financial services – fundamental consumer protection principles remain constant. And as the FTC’s $3.85 million settlement with Avant, LLC, demonstrates, that includes representations and practices related to online lending.
“Viagra for the brain.” It’s a slogan designed to attract the attention of consumers concerned about cognition. Then there was a massive online ad campaign of “news” websites featuring supposed testimonials from people like Bill Gates and the now-late Dr. Stephen Hawking. It’s no wonder people forked over millions for supplements that went by names like Geniux, Xcel, EVO, and Ion-Z.
We do our best to keep the puffery in check. So when we say an event features a star-studded line-up of panelists, we think we can substantiate that claim. The FTC’s ongoing Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century have brought luminaries together to discuss the impact on the FTC’s mission of broad-based changes in the economy, evolving business practices, and tech developments.
Gamers call them loot boxes – in-game rewards players can buy that contain a random assortment of virtual items. The loot may help players advance in an online game or allow them to customize their avatars. The rewards may be virtual, but they’ve become a very real revenue stream for game developers.
Is there anything you can’t get delivered to your front door? (And yes, home renovators will attest you can even get a front door delivered to your front door.) The burgeoning subscription model can offer convenience to customers, but only if companies honor established consumer protection principles.
Remember the old Superman movie where the Man of Steel squeezed carbon in his hand to create a diamond? That’s not how it’s done, but these days not everything sparkly comes from a mine. In addition to mined diamonds, consumers can choose simulated diamonds or diamonds created in a laboratory. What matters to consumers – and the FTC – is that companies accurately describe what they’re selling.
To many Americans, the phrase “We support our troops” is more than just a bumper sticker. They put their money where their heart is and contribute to organizations that benefit members of the military – or police officers, first responders, or others who serve. Their generous intent shouldn’t be undermined by sham charities that allocate the lion’s share of donations not to promised services, but to telemarketing, salaries, and other overhead.
It’s an illegal practice the FTC has challenged for decades: companies convincing consumers to pay for “repairs” on products that don’t really need fixing. The FTC alleges that Office Depot and service vendor Support.com engaged in a 21st century version of that misleading tactic. According to the complaint, the defendants tricked customers into spending millions on repairs by deceptively claiming they had found malware symptoms or infections on consumers’ computers.
The FTC focuses most of its time and attention on protecting consumers and promoting competition. Every so often, we stop and take stock. For example, check out our just-released Annual Highlights for a detailed round-up of some of the FTC’s 2018 consumer protection accomplishments.
The FTC just announced developments in the ongoing fight against illegal robocalls. “But my company would never place illegal robocalls,” you say. Glad to hear it, but there are four reasons why reputable businesses should still take note when the FTC brings actions against robocallers.
If you sell genetic testing kits to consumers, you’re probably familiar with the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of genetic information under some circumstances. You’re also familiar with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which protects health information collected by certain types of entities. Then there are laws enforced by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that pertain to genetic testing kits.
First, the bad news: That nifty purchase needs a repair. Now the good news for consumers: It’s still under warranty. But where can they go to get it fixed? Can the manufacturer restrict a consumer’s ability to go to the independent repair shop of their choice? Can the manufacturer use glue, non-standard screws, and proprietary diagnostic software that make it difficult for independent repair shops to fix things?