“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?
Looking to take a deep dive into the breadth and depth of the FTC’s approach to consumer privacy and data security in the past year? The FTC’s website, including the Business Center, has what you need. But what if you or your clients prefer an at-your-fingertips digest of developments in 2018? We’re got that covered, too.
From the FTC’s perspective, a certain pattern of online business has become a recipe for consumer injury.
The FTC’s ability to obtain information through subpoenas and civil investigative demands (CIDs) is critical to the task of investigating potential law violations. The FTC uses this authority deliberately and responsibly, avoiding unnecessary burdens on businesses and individuals and consistent with our obligations to enforce the law.
When it comes to getting the working capital your company needs, you’re strictly business. Yes, you confer with traditional financial institutions, but like many small businesses, you also may look into online loans and other newer options. Financing for smaller enterprises is the topic of an upcoming FTC workshop. Mark May 8, 2019, on your calendar for Strictly Business: An FTC Forum on Small Business Financing.
When it came to designing the FTC’s Cybersecurity for Small Business campaign, you called the shots. We hosted round tables across the country and listened to what business owners had to say. You told us you wanted: 1) No-nonsense advice that’s easy to implement; and 2) Consistent guidance from the different federal agencies that deal with cyber threats and data security.
Every year, millions of consumers tell us – and our partners – about the frauds they spotted. In 2018, we heard from 3 million people and learned a lot from the reports entered into our Consumer Sentinel database. Here are some notable facts from the Consumer Sentinel Network’s 2018 Data Book – including that a new category of scams has earned the unenviable right to chant "We’re #1."
We’ll confess to singing along to a Stevie Nicks song or doing an air guitar solo when no one’s looking. But some people take their lip syncing to the next level. More than 200 million people – 65 million of them in the U.S. – downloaded the Musical.ly app. It gave users a platform to create videos and synchronize them with popular songs. It also allowed users to interact directly with each other. That may sound like fun for aficionados, but it raises concerns for parents, especially given public reports that adults have used the Musical.ly app to contact children.
In explaining FTC cases, we try to give readers a behind-the-scenes perspective and sometimes the most accurate insights are out of the mouths of corporate insiders. In the FTC’s first case challenging fabricated reviews on an independent retail site, consider an email from the CEO of Brooklyn-based Cure Encapsulations about a weight loss pill it was selling.