In Tough Economic Times, FTC Focused on Financial Services, Health Care, Energy, Privacy, Technology
Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz today issued the FTC’s 2009 Annual Report at the American Bar Association’s Section of Antitrust Law Spring Meeting in Washington, DC. “The FTC in 2009,” available on the Commission’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov/reports/index.shtm, describes the agency’s competition and consumer protection accomplishments since last March. The online version of the report links readers to all source documents, such as press releases, reports, speeches, and educational materials.
“Many Americans have been touched by the economic downturn, whether they are facing mounting debts, struggling to avoid foreclosure, or scrambling to keep up with the rising cost of basic drugs and medical care,” Leibowitz said. “In such times, the Commission must maintain its focus on the areas that most affect American consumers and the U.S. economy.”
The report highlights several of the FTC’s accomplishments in the past year, including:
- Filing suits to keep health care costs down. The Commission continued to bring cases against pharmaceutical companies that would rather collude than compete, entering “pay-for-delay” agreements to keep lower cost generic drugs off the market, and potentially costing consumers and taxpayers billions of dollars a year. The FTC also blocked a merger between two hospital providers in Northern Virginia and stopped two physician groups from boycotting insurance payors to keep reimbursement rates high.
- Filing a record six merger cases for threatening to harm competition in a range of markets, from hospital services and retail goods, to pharmaceuticals and technology products. When it cannot resolve its concerns by consent, the Commission files suit to block or undo anticompetitive mergers.
- Challenging unlawful and deceptive financial services, particularly those related to sub-prime credit or lending. Examples include a settlement with CompuCredit Corporation that will bring consumers an estimated $114 million in credits and cash refunds; six actions against businesses falsely promising foreclosure rescue; and joint actions with state enforcers against 36 credit repair operations that deceptively claimed they could remove accurate and timely negative information from consumer credit reports.
- Urging self-regulatory industry principles for behavioral advertising – the practice of tracking an individual’s online activities to deliver advertising tailored to his or her interests. As part of its efforts to examine consumer privacy issues, FTC staff issued “Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising.” The report discusses the potential benefits (including free online content); as well as various privacy concerns, such as the risk that sensitive health or financial information could fall into the wrong hands or be used for unanticipated purposes.
- Launching an ambitious plan to address the virtual explosion of “green” marketing claims. As consumers become more concerned about environmental and energy issues, the Commission initiated an information gathering, law enforcement, and rulemaking plan to ensure that consumers have accurate information about the environmental and energy impact of the products they use. Work this year included workshops on carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates, enforcement actions alleging deceptive claims for home insulation products and for devices advertised to increase gas mileage, and rulemaking to examine energy labeling for light bulbs, televisions, and personal computers and monitors.
- Increasing the effectiveness of cross-border cooperation and enforcement by using the tools provided by the 2006 U.S. SAFE WEB Act and working with multilateral organizations. In addition to key antitrust enforcement efforts in the global marketplace, the FTC also worked with its global partners to shut down one of the world’s largest international e-mail “spam gangs.”
Copies of the report are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,500 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.
(Annual Report NR.wpd)