FTC Streamlines Consumer Protection and Competition Investigations in Eight Key Enforcement Areas to Enable Higher Caseload

Agency to Focus on Service Members and Veterans; Children; Algorithmic and Biometric Bias; Deceptive and Manipulative Conduct on the Internet; and Repair Restrictions; Abuse of Intellectual Property; and Monopolization

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At the joint recommendation from its Bureau of Consumer Protection and Bureau of Competition, the Federal Trade Commission voted to approve and make public a series of resolutions that will enable agency staff to efficiently and expeditiously investigate conduct in core FTC priority areas over the next ten years.

The Bureaus recommended that the Commission authorize eight new compulsory process resolutions in these essential areas: (1) Acts or Practices Affecting United States Armed Forces Service Members and Veterans; (2) Acts or Practices Affecting Children; (3) Bias in Algorithms and Biometrics; (4) Deceptive and Manipulative Conduct on the Internet; and (5) Repair Restrictions. (6) Abuse of Intellectual Property; (7) Common Directors and Officers and Common Ownership; and (8) Monopolization Offenses.

“These resolutions enable the FTC to take swift action against a whole host of illegal conduct in important areas of concern to the Commission,” said Holly Vedova, Acting Director of the Bureau of Competition. She noted that, “Companies engaging in conduct implicated by these resolutions should be forewarned: the FTC looks forward to aggressively using these resolutions and will not hesitate to take action against illegal conduct to the fullest extent possible under the law.”

“Harmful practices – especially those targeting children, veterans, and marginalized communities – will not be tolerated by this Commission,” said Samuel Levine, Acting Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Today’s resolutions ensure our staff can rapidly respond to allegations of abuse and fight fraud without delay.”  

Specifically, the resolutions approved by a Commission vote of 3-2 will allow:

  • Service members and Veterans: harmful business practices directed at service members and veterans are a source of significant public concern, and, now, FTC staff will be able to expeditiously investigate any allegations in this important area. 
  • Children under 18: harmful conduct directed at children under 18 has been a source of significant public concern, now, FTC staff will similarly be able to expeditiously investigate any allegations in this important area. 
  • Algorithmic and Biometric Bias: allows staff to investigate allegations of bias in algorithms and biometrics. Algorithmic bias was the subject of a recent FTC blog
  • Deceptive and Manipulative Conduct on the Internet: this omnibus expands a previous omnibus resolution on deceptive practices, which expired on Aug. 1. The existing resolution, has enabled the FTC to develop investigations and bring cases in a variety of areas including day trading services, tech support scams,  the BOTS Act,  payment processing,  and the deceptive marketing of goods and services online, including pandemic-related goods like fake Clorox products and face masks. In addition to the areas covered by the existing resolution, this expanded version covers the “manipulation of user interfaces,” including but not limited to dark patterns, also the subject of a recent FTC workshop
  • Repair Restrictions: enhances the FTC’s ongoing investigations into restrictions on repair and builds on the FTC’s recent Policy Statement on Right to Repair.  It would cover a wide range of anti-consumer and anti-competitive abuses and facilitate staff’s impending investigation of violations of the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act’s anti-tying provisions.
  • Abuse of Intellectual Property: allows staff to investigate abuses of intellectual property rights. Conduct involving abuse of intellectual property rights has been a source of much anticompetitive and deceptive conduct in many different areas, including pharmaceuticals, technology and gasoline refining, and this omnibus will allow staff to expeditiously investigate allegations in this area. 
  • Common Director and Officers and Common Ownership: facilitates investigations of both ownership stakes in competing companies that may be anticompetitive as well as interlocking directorates that may violate Section 8 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. § 19. Interlocking directorates and common ownership continue to raise significant competitive concerns.
  • Monopolistic Practices: Market power abuses by tech companies and other large companies are rightly a source of bipartisan concern. This omnibus will allow staff to more expeditiously investigate market power abuses by dominant firms that are precluding businesses and entrepreneurs from being able to compete, particularly in digital markets.  

Compulsory process refers to the issuance of demands for documents and testimony, through the use of civil investigative demands and subpoenas. The FTC Act authorizes the Commission to use compulsory process in its investigations. Compulsory process requires the recipient to produce information, and these orders are enforceable by courts. Civil investigative demands and subpoenas are assigned to a Commissioner for review and authorization by the FTC’s Office of Secretary, typically on a rotating basis or according to availability. The Commission has routinely adopted compulsory process resolutions on a wide range of topics. The resolutions announced today will broaden the ability for FTC investigators and prosecutors to obtain evidence in critical investigations on key areas where the FTC’s work can make the most impact. Each omnibus covers investigations into competition or consumer protection conduct violations under the FTC Act. 

Streamlining and improving efficiency at the agency is vitally important given the increased volume of investigatory work created by the surge in merger filings. Having already doubled between 2010 and 2020, the number of mergers filed with the antitrust authorities this year hit a record-setting pace of 2,067 acquisitions for the first seven months alone.  With these resolutions in place, the FTC can better utilize its limited resources and move forward in earnest to quickly investigate potential misconduct. The Bureaus are now authorized to take steps to ensure that any compulsory process orders are enforceable.

Chair Khan and Commissioners Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter voted yes, and Commissioners Noah Joshua Phillips and Christine S. Wilson voted no. Chair Khan and Commissioner Slaughter issued a statement. Commissioner Chopra issued a separate statement. Commissioners Wilson and Phillips issued a dissenting statement.

The vote to make the omnibus resolutions public was 5-0.

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