International Monthly: January 2018

 
 U.S. Competition, Consumer Protection and Privacy News
 

JANUARY 2018

Consumer Protection and Privacy

redress graphic

FTC Returns $6.4 Billion in Refunds to Consumers

The FTC reports that its law enforcement actions in the one-year period ending on June 30, 2017, returned $6.4 billion in refunds to consumers, including $391 million the FTC sent directly to 6.28 million consumers. Some court orders required the defendants to send refunds directly to consumers, including more than $6 billion returned under the FTC’s settlement with Volkswagen during the time period covered by the report. Click to read the business blog post, Refundamentals: How the FTC returns billions to consumers.

coppa

Electronic Toy Maker VTech Settles FTC Allegations That it Violated Children’s Privacy Law and the FTC Act

Electronic toy manufacturer VTech Electronics Limited and its U.S. subsidiary have agreed to settle FTC charges that the company violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by collecting personal information from children without providing direct notice and obtaining their parent’s consent, and failing to take reasonable steps to secure the data it collected. VTech will pay $650,000 as part of the settlement with the FTC.

FTC and Nevada Seek to Halt Revenge Porn Site

The FTC and the state of Nevada have charged the parties responsible for a revenge porn site with violating federal and state law by posting intimate images of people, together with their personal information, without their consent. One of the defendants has agreed to a permanent ban on posting intimate images without consent.

hotel

Hotel Room Resellers Settle FTC Charges That They Misled Consumers

Third-party hotel room reseller Reservation Counter, LLC, and related companies have settled FTC charges that they misled consumers through ads, webpages, and call centers that led consumers to mistakenly believe they were reserving the rooms directly from the hotel, and failed to adequately tell consumers that their credit cards would be charged immediately, rather than after they arrived at the hotel.

econsumer

FTC and econsumer.gov Members Launch New econsumer.gov Consumer Education Video

The FTC and consumer protection agencies in 35 other countries that are part of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN) launched a consumer education video on reporting international scams to econsumer.gov, a joint project of consumer protection agencies around the world to report international scams online. The video is available so far in English and Spanish. Watch the video here (scroll down the left side of the web page). To learn how your organization can participate in and promote this project, please contact Hui Ling Goh of the FTC’s Office of International Affairs at hgoh@ftc.gov.

Agency Releases Staff Report Summarizing FTC Consumer Research on Online Advertising

advertising report logo

The FTC released a staff report on agency-commissioned research exploring consumer recognition of paid search advertising and “native advertising” that resemble news or other non-advertising online content. The study provides insights into how consumers perceive search and native ads and how modifications to disclosures and to other visual cues may enhance consumers’ recognition of these ads.

Competition

FTC Challenges Consummated Merger of Companies That Make Microprocessor Prosthetic Knees

The FTC issued an administrative complaint challenging Otto Bock’s recent acquisition of FIH Group Holdings, which was not reportable under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act. The FTC alleged that the merger harmed competition in the U.S. market for microprocessor prosthetic knees by eliminating direct competition between the two companies, removing a significant and disruptive competitor, and entrenching Otto Bock’s position as the dominant supplier.

vet clinic (pup)

FTC Alters Vet Clinic Final Consent Order in Response to Public Comments

In response to comments received during the public comment period, the Commission modified its proposed order concerning Mars, Incorporated’s $9.1 billion acquisition of pet care company VCA Inc. to allow on-call or “relief” veterinarians to perform work at both Mars clinics and the divested clinics.

FTC Requires Divestiture of Two Medical Device Product Lines as Condition of Merger

Becton, Dickinson and Company and C. R. Bard, Inc. agreed to divest two medical device product lines to settle FTC charges that Becton, Dickinson’s proposed $24 billion acquisition of Bard would negatively impact competition by combining the top two suppliers in the U.S. markets for tunneled home drainage catheter systems and soft tissue core needle biopsy devices. Commission staff and the staff of antitrust agencies in China, the European Union, Mexico, and South Africa worked cooperatively to analyze the proposed transaction and remedies.

hospital

FTC Wins Preliminary Injunction Against Merger of North Dakota Hospitals

A Federal District Judge granted a preliminary injunction (PI) blocking the merger of two hospitals in Bismarck, North Dakota. The FTC and the Attorney General of North Dakota jointly sought the PI, contending that the transaction would unlawfully lessen competition among four physician service lines—adult primary care physician services, pediatric services, obstetrics and gynecology services, and general surgery physician services in the Bismarck-Mandan area. A full trial on the merits will follow.

Canadian Fertilizer and Chemical Companies Divest Production Facilities as Condition of Merger

Canadian fertilizer and chemical companies Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc. and Agrium Inc. agreed to divest two U.S. production facilities in order to settle FTC charges that their proposed merger would negatively impact competition in the North American market for superphosphoric acid and the market for “65-67 percent concentration nitric acid” sold to customers in close geographic proximity to the parties’ plants in Ohio. Commission staff and the staff of antitrust agencies in Canada and China worked cooperatively to analyze the proposed transaction.

In Other News

FTC Staff Perspective Recaps Workshop Examining Privacy, Security Issues Related to Connected Cars

connected cars

A new staff paper details key takeaways from a recent workshop the Commission co-hosted with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration focused on privacy and security issues related to connected cars. These include consumer concerns about unexpected uses of data collected from autonomous and connected cars. Participants noted that addressing consumer privacy concerns is critical to consumer acceptance and adoption of the emerging technologies behind connected cars. They also discussed cybersecurity risks and best practices to address them.

fraud alert - credit freeze

FTC Offers Information on Fraud Alerts, Credit Freezes and Locks

The FTC published a blog post in the wake of the Equifax data breach to help consumers decide whether to place a fraud alert, freeze, or lock on their credit file to help prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts in their name. To help business owners inform their customers, the FTC published a second blog post, Fraud alert, freeze or lock after Equifax? Answers to questions people are asking you.

do not call

FTC Issues Biennial Report to Congress on the National Do Not Call Registry

The FTC has issued its biennial report to Congress focusing on the use of the National Do Not Call (DNC) Registry by consumers, businesses, and other entities over the past two years. This year’s report includes a summary of the impact of new telecommunications technologies on the DNC Registry.

FTC Staff Submits Comment on Proposed Legislation in Pennsylvania

FTC Staff submitted written comments on the competitive impact of a legislative proposal to modify the supervision requirements imposed on advanced practice registered nurse-certified nurse practitioners in Pennsylvania. Staff encourages the legislature to pass the proposal, which the comment identifies as likely to benefit competition and consumers while promoting principles of economic liberty.

multilevel marketing

FTC Staff Offers Business Guidance Concerning Multi-Level Marketing

The FTC staff has released business guidance to help multi-level marketers (MLMs) understand and comply with the law. Although there may be significant differences in how MLMs sell products or services, core consumer protection principles apply to all MLMs. Among other things, the business guidance explains how the FTC distinguishes between MLMs with lawful and unlawful compensation structures, how MLMs with unfair or deceptive compensation structures harm consumers, and how the FTC treats personal or internal consumption by participants in determining if an MLM’s compensation structure is unfair or deceptive.

FTC, FCC Outline Agreement to Coordinate Online Consumer Protection Efforts Following Adoption of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order

The FTC and Federal Communications Commission announced their intent to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding under which the two agencies will coordinate online consumer protection efforts following the FCC’s adoption of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order.