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Modifying the orbit of MARS, but not protections for consumers

Today, the FTC announced it won't enforce most parts of the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services (MARS) Rule against real estate brokers and their agents who help consumers with short sales. A short sale — a phrase consumers have heard a lot recently — is the sale of a home for less than the homeowner owes on the mortgage, and where the bank accepts the sale proceeds instead of foreclosing.

Candid spamera

Say “spam” and most business executives think of annoying messages that litter their IN box.  But the CAN-SPAM Act and the FTC’s CAN-SPAM Rule cover a much broader range of commercial email.  Yes, that includes messages offering to split $50 million languishing in the foreign bank account of a deposed prince.  But the Rule also applies to a wide variety of communications with customers or potential customers — for example, an email notifying them about a product you’re featuring or an upcoming sale.

Get FTC news and updates your way

Last week, Facebook announced new video calling and group chat services for the social network. That same afternoon, the President of the United States held a town hall on Twitter to talk about the economy and jobs in America. Today, people have many methods to communicate, often right at the tips of their fingers.  That’s why the FTC has introduced a new STAY CONNECTED feature on ftc.gov.

Room with review

Is your briefcase feeling lighter? That’s because your dog-eared copy of Volume 16 of the Code of Federal Regulations (where most FTC rules and guides live) is decidedly thinner these days. For the past two decades, the agency has undertaken a systematic review of its rules and guides to make sure they’re up to date, effective, and not overly burdensome. As each rule comes up for review, we ask ourselves — and you — four questions:

Thigh maintenance

A skin cream that can reduce body size.  Are historians sure that wasn’t what Ponce de Leon was seeking?  It’s certainly what buyers are looking for, if ads are any indication.  But claims like that have to be backed up by solid science, as is clear from the FTC’s $900,000 settlement with Beiersdorf, Inc., marketer of Nivea My Silhouette!  (Yes, the exclamation point is on the package.)

What's on the table

The preliminary voluntary principles proposed in April by the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children have got people talking about kids, advertising, and nutrition. Congress — in a bipartisan effort led by former Senator Sam Brownback and Senator Tom Harkin — directed the FTC, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to develop recommendations for the nutritional quality of food marketed to kids, ages 2 to 17.

Gauge your app-titude

Today, tech-savvy entrepreneurs use mobile apps to build buzz, save money, and stay in touch on the go.  But how can you make sure all those apps you buy protect your privacy, keep your data secure, and wind up costing you exactly the advertised price?  OnGuardOnline, the federal government’s online safety and security site, has some questions to consider before you click DOWNLOAD.

Double duty?

Sometimes it’s great to put stuff to more than one use.  Think the versatile Swiss Army knife, the iconic Little Black Dress, or the typical elementary school “cafetorium” where kids can eat lunch, shoot hoops, and put on plays.  But when what’s at issue is information from people’s credit reports, that kind of double duty can violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act — as the FTC’s $1.8 million settlement with Teletrack, Inc., makes clear.

It's all about the order

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?”  Law enforcers often ask themselves a similar question:  “If a lawsuit reaches final judgment without concrete protections in place for the future, does it have any impact?”  That explains the FTC’s keen interest in remedies with the teeth necessary to do the job.  Simply put, when it comes to consumer protection, it’s all about the order.

Shedding light on lumens

You use them everyday at home and at the office, they’re within an arm’s reach of where you’re sitting — and they’re undergoing the most profound change since the days of Thomas Edison.  Any guesses?

Light bulbs.

Around the world in shady ways

Yes, it’s a global marketplace, but geography still matters. Misrepresentations about where a company is based can have significant implications for buyers. That’s the message of an FTC settlement announced today against a California online retailer that allegedly deceived British consumers into thinking it was a “hometown operation” by falsely using a .co.uk website.

What the headline giveth

If you work in the telecommunications field, you’ll want to follow the FTC’s pending lawsuit against Millennium Telecard. But even if telecom isn’t your line, the case illustrates a key principle of FTC advertising law: “What the headline giveth, the fine print cannot taketh away.”

“Find ‘em, list ‘em, and make money”? Not so fast, say the FTC and Colorado AG

You run a successful business or maybe you work with some of the top companies in the country. A friend or relative is struggling to climb out of a financial hole. They ask for advice about a can’t-miss “wealth-building program.” Do them a favor and suggest they apply the brakes before shelling out a penny.

Time to kick the tires on the FTC’s Alternative Fuels Rule

We’re still waiting for George Jetson’s promised jetpacks, but car buyers have started to see transportation options not available just a few years ago.  That’s one reason the FTC has begun a review the Alternative Fuels Rule and seeks your input about the rule’s costs, benefits, and regulatory and economic impact.

Dot Com 2.0 (Does anybody say 2.0 anymore?)

Where were you in 2000?  Tooling around on your scooter listening to CDs by Destiny’s Child, ‘N Sync, and Creed?  Joining the 50 million Americans who watched the latest TV sensation “Survivor”?  Grateful the Y2K bug didn’t send us back to the Stone Age?  Reading Dot Com Disclosures:  Information About Online Advertising, the FTC’s first guidance document on how federal advertising laws apply to advertising and sales on the Internet?

Free means free, says the FTC

You can swim freestyle.  You can work freelance.  And there are those among us who still hold up lighters and yell “Play Free Bird.”  But for marketers, one thing you can’t do is advertise a product as free and then bill customers’ credit cards — not once and certainly not over and over and over again.

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