Business Blog


Private eyes: Lessons from the rent-to-own webcam cases

The charges outlined in the FTC’s lawsuits against a software business and seven rent-to-own companies are surprising — and OK, some might say a little creepy.  Software on rented computers gave the companies the ability to hit the kill switch if people were behind on their payments.  But according to the complaints, it also let them collect sensitive personal information, grab screen shots, and take webcam photos of people in their homes.

"I always feel like somebody's watching me"

Paranoid delusion from 80s R&B artist Rockwell?  Not necessarily, if he had used a computer from a rent-to-own store.  Because according to lawsuits filed by the FTC, many stores — including franchisees of Aaron’s, ColorTyme, and Premier Rental Purchase — spied on their customers through secret software that logged key strokes, captured screen shots, and in some cases, remotely activated the computer’s webcam to take pictures of people in their homes.  Huh?  Yeah, really.

Care a-parent

It can take a lot of shoe leather to investigate housing options for older relatives.  So entrepreneurs have stepped in to help make those transitions easier.  But according to the FTC, two unrelated businesses that offered free online placement services for people looking for long-term care facilities didn’t live up to their claims that they researched each location thoroughly.  The settlements offer compliance insights for other companies, too.

Good night. Sleep tight. Be sure to get your ad claims right.

No one is going to amend the nursery rhyme, but if you market products aimed at fighting bed bugs or head lice and are itching to keep your promotions in line with the law, two FTC lawsuits merit your attention.  Even if bugs aren’t your bag, the cases are a reminder of the need to back up your claims with solid science.

Life in the (Medi)fast lane

If you use consumer testimonials in your ads or have clients  who do, check out the FTC’s settlement with Jason Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of the diet company, Medifast, Inc.  But to really explore what the case is about, we’ll need to take a trip back to 1992.  (Sorry -- we should have asked our UK consumer protection counterparts to let us borrow the TARDIS for this.)

New FTC publication for mobile app developers

Are you in the mobile app business?  If so, you’re probably considering some important questions, like what to tell users about your app, what information to collect from users, and what to do with any information you collect.  Whether you work for a tech giant or are striking out on your own with that gotta-have-it app, the same truth-in-advertising standards and basic privacy principles apply.

Out of the mouths of babes

Tell people your baby is adorable and no doubt you have the photos to back it up.  But market a product called “Your Baby Can Read!” and you better have real proof.  According to a lawsuit filed by the FTC, ads for the “Your Baby Can Read!” program made false and deceptive claims that the product could teach infants and toddlers to read.

Phenomenal abdominals? Not so fast, Ab Circle Pro.

If you haven’t heard of the Ab Circle Pro, you need to spend more time in your recliner.  Between the infomercial blitz, the online presence, and a retail campaign that promoted the product with a prominent “As Seen on TV” logo, ads were everywhere.  The marketers claimed that using the device for just three minutes a day would lead to a 10-pound weight loss in two weeks and inches off the stomach, hips, and thighs — benefits equal to or better than longer workouts at the gym.

It's back-to-school time: Protecting kids' identities

As back-to-school time approaches, children may be thinking about meeting up with friends to share stories about their summer adventures.  But when it comes to personal information, parents and kids need to be careful about sharing too much.  These days the casual use of sensitive data (like a Social Security number on a registration form, permission slip, or health document) can lead to child identity theft, a serious crime that impacts thousands of kids each year.  Parents can take steps to protect their children from ID theft — and your business can help by sharing free FTC resources in

Sports concussion prevention claims: What marketers need to know

Whether you’re a full-pads athlete or a quarterback of the Monday morning variety, you’ve read reports about sports-related concussions.  But before marketing a product advertised to reduce the risk of those injuries, businesses should take a careful look at the FTC’s settlement with Pennsylvania-based Brain-Pad, Inc.

Track afield: What the FTC's Google case means for your company

After two weeks of talk about track, the trending topic is tracking, including the FTC’s $22.5 million settlement with Google for violating an earlier order.  Google told users of the Safari browser it wouldn’t place tracking cookies or serve them targeted ads, but the FTC charged that the company’s tracking practices went far afield of its claims.  Of course, the terms of that settlement apply just to Google, but there’s a lot savv

Milking cookies: The FTC's $22.5 million settlement with Google

There’s been a lot of talk about breaking records these past few weeks.  But here’s one you won’t see on the sports pages:  the FTC’s $22.5 million settlement with Google, the largest civil penalty ever against a single defendant.  The penalty stems from FTC charges that Google didn’t give users of Apple’s Safari Internet browser the straight story about the use of tracking cookies.  That, says the FTC, violated the terms of Google’s 2011 privacy settlement.

Pets, Vets, and Retail Outlets

Last year, U.S. pet owners spent over $50 billion on their pets.  That’s a lot of puppy chow, chew toys, and rhinestone collars.  But it also reflects significant expenditures for pet health products and services, including veterinary office visits and medicines.  In fact, in 2011 American consumers spent nearly $7 billion on pet medications alone.