An informal surf of the websites maintained by the manufacturers of many consumer products reveals that companies could do more to educate consumers about potential Year 2000 problems, according to the Federal Trade Commission. While home-office equipment manufacturers are doing a fairly good job of providing product-specific Y2K information, the survey showed that the producers of consumer electronics and home appliances containing microchips are not yet systematically providing such information.
"Consumers tell us they have questions about whether the appliances and electronics in their homes will work on January 1, 2000," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "At the same time, trade associations and manufacturers are telling us that many consumer products won't have Y2K problems because they don't have a calendar function. Sounds like it's a good time for businesses to tell consumers what products may have problems, how to remedy them, and who to contact for more information."
The FTC's limited search sought Y2K information for a total of 171 products in three categories -- consumer electronics, home appliances and home-office equipment. The staff's effort focused on three questions: whether the companies have websites, whether product-specific Y2K information was available on the sites, and whether the Y2K information was easy to find.
For example, agency staff searched for websites of 10 major brands of televisions, cameras, camcorders and VCRs. They learned that of the total of 40 consumer electronics products checked, Y2K information was provided for only 11 products.
Of the 90 home appliance products reviewed, including gas and electric ranges, microwave ovens, refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, clothes dryers, freezers, furnaces and room air conditioners, Y2K information was available for only four products.
In the home-office equipment category, which included fax machines, copiers, printers, and scanners, the staff found Y2K information for 29 of the 41 products reviewed. Many of these companies also provided explanations of their Y2K compliance testing procedures, their definitions of Y2K compliant, or answers to frequently asked questions about Y2K issues.
The FTC also announced the release of a new Business Alert that offers tips for telling consumers about products that may or may not be affected by Y2K problems. The agency's Business Alert grew out of its participation on the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion. In May 1998, the Commission began a special business and consumer outreach effort that included seeking public comment on the impact of Y2K issues on consumer products and financial services. As a result of the comments it received, agency representatives have been meeting regularly with industry and consumer groups to learn more about the possible problems consumers and manufacturers may encounter, and to develop ways to ensure that consumers are informed about any remedies that may be available to fix them.
Among the suggestions in the FTC alert titled, "Y2K? Y2Care: Communicating Product Compliance to Your Customers," are:
- Companies use their websites to disclose the Y2K compliance status of their products by including a complete list by model numbers and year;
- Companies define "Y2K compliant" and include a description of any anticipated Y2K problems.
- Companies tell consumers whether there are remedies available to fix products with Y2K problems.
- Companies also offer Y2K information to consumers via a toll-free telephone number or fax-back system.
Copies of "Y2K? Y2Care: Communicating Product Compliance to Your Customers" and other consumer education materials are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-FTC-HELP (202-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
(FTC File No. P984238)
Office of Public Affairs
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