FTC Settles with Two Companies Falsely Claiming to Comply with International Safe Harbor Privacy Framework

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Two U.S. businesses have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges they falsely claimed they were abiding by an international privacy framework known as the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor, which enables U.S. companies to transfer consumer data from the European Union to the United States in compliance with EU law.

FTC complaints against TES Franchising, LLC, and American International Mailing, Inc. allege that the companies’ websites indicated they were currently certified under the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework and U.S.-Swiss Safe Harbor Framework, when in fact their certifications had lapsed years earlier.

“We remain strongly committed to enforcing the U.S.-EU and U.S.-Swiss Safe Harbor Frameworks,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “These cases send an important message that businesses must not deceive consumers about whether they hold these certifications, and by extension, the ways in which they protect consumers.”

The complaint against TES also alleges that TES deceived consumers about the nature of its dispute resolution procedures. On its website, the company stated that Safe Harbor-related disputes would be settled by an arbitration agency, would take place in Connecticut, and costs would be split between the consumer and the company. According to the FTC’s complaint, the company had agreed in its Safe Harbor certification filing that it would resolve disputes through the European data protection authorities, which do not require in-person hearings and resolve disputes at no cost to the consumer. The complaint also alleges that the company deceptively claimed to be a licensee of the TRUSTe Privacy program.

To participate in the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework or U.S.-Swiss Safe Harbor Frameworks, a company must self-certify annually to the Department of Commerce that it complies with the seven privacy principles required to meet the EU’s adequacy standard: notice, choice, onward transfer, security, data integrity, access, and enforcement. A participant may also highlight for consumers its compliance with the Safe Harbor by displaying the Safe Harbor certification mark on its website.

Under the proposed settlement agreements, which are subject to public comment, the companies are prohibited from misrepresenting the extent to which they participate in any privacy or data security program sponsored by the government or any other self-regulatory or standard-setting organization. The settlement with TES further prohibits the company from misrepresenting its participation in or the terms of any alternative dispute resolution process or service. 

Consumers who want to know whether a U.S. company is a participant in the U.S-EU or U.S.-Swiss Safe Harbor program may visit http://export.gov/safeharbor to see if the company holds a current self-certification.

These cases are being brought with the valuable assistance of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The Commission votes to issue the administrative complaints and accept the proposed consent agreements were 5-0. The FTC will publish a description of the consent agreement package in the Federal Register shortly. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning today and continuing through May 7, 2015, after which the Commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent order final. Interested parties can submit comments electronically by following the instructions in the “Invitation To Comment” part of the “Supplementary Information” section: [American International Mailing, Inc. | TES Franchising, LLC].

NOTE: The Commission issues an administrative complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $16,000.

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 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

Contact Information

MEDIA CONTACT:
Office of Public Affairs
202-326-2180

STAFF CONTACTS:
Jessica Lyon,
Bureau of Consumer Protection
(TES Franchising, LLC)
202-326-2344

Monique Einhorn,
Bureau of Consumer Protection
(American International Mailing, Inc.)
202-326-2575