The FTC announced the agenda for its next set of hearings on October 15-17, co-sponsored with the Global Antitrust Institute. The hearings will examine the potential for collusive, exclusionary, and predatory conduct in multi-sided, technology-based platform industries. Sessions will also address antitrust frameworks for evaluating acquisitions of nascent competitors or occurring in nascent markets, including in the technology and digital marketplace, and the assessment of antitrust issues regarding labor markets. The agency has also scheduled the next three hearings, on Innovation and Intellectual Property Policy (Oct. 23-24), Privacy, Big Data, and Competition (Nov. 6-7), and Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, and Predictive Analytics (Nov. 13-14).
A team of attorneys and other staff at the FTC received a prestigious Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal for their public service in negotiating a historic $586 million settlement with Western Union that will provide refunds to hundreds of thousands of consumers in the United States and worldwide who lost money through fraud-induced money transfers. Team leader Karen Dodge, and Joannie Wei, Elizabeth Scott, and Doug McKenney, all in the FTC’s Midwest Region office in Chicago, received the Homeland Security and Law Enforcement Medal jointly with a team from the Department of Justice.
Robert Pitofsky, FTC Chairman from 1995-2001 and previously a Commissioner and Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, died on October 6. Among his achievements was convening a set of public hearings that helped shape FTC competition and consumer protection enforcement and policy amid rapid changes in the economy driven by digital technology and globalization. Those hearings were the model for the Commission’s current hearings on competition and consumer protection in the 21st century. FTC Chairman Joseph J. Simons issued on a statement saying, “Bob’s legacy thus continues to inspire us. We will continue to look to Bob’s example of brilliance, leadership, integrity and devotion to the American consumer as we move forward.”
Four companies have agreed to settle FTC charges that they falsely claimed certification under the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield framework and that two of these companies failed to abide by a key provision of the framework. The framework establishes a process to allow companies to transfer consumer data from European Union countries to the United States in compliance with EU law. The Department of Commerce administers the framework, while the FTC enforces the promises companies make when they join the framework.
The FTC settled charges against a marketer and seller of intravenously injected therapy products (iV cocktails) that allegedly made deceptive and unsupported health claims about their ability to treat serious diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and congestive heart failure. As part of the settlement, the FTC required the company’s owner to send an email to certain consumers advising them that scientific studies have not shown that the cocktail is an effective treatment and urging them to speak to their healthcare providers about treatment.
The FTC, working jointly with the U.S. Department of Justice, is mailing nearly 1.8 million refund checks totaling more than $505 million to people who were deceived by a massive payday lending scheme that charged them undisclosed and inflated fees. The consumer refunds stem from a record-setting $1.3 billion civil court judgment for violations of the FTC Act and the Truth in Lending Act. The order represents the largest litigated judgment ever obtained by the FTC.
A U.S. district court in Florida has granted the FTC’s motion for summary judgment on all counts of its amended complaint against weight-loss supplement marketer Roca Labs, including allegations that the company’s enforcement of “gag clauses” to stop consumers from posting negative reviews is unfair and likely to cause substantial harm, in violation of the FTC Act.
The operators of websites that sold fake documents used to facilitate identity theft and other frauds have agreed to shut down their businesses permanently as part of separate settlements with the FTC. Identity theft was the second biggest category of consumer complaints (14%) reported to the FTC in 2017.
In testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights, the FTC described its antitrust enforcement and policy work. The testimony focused on the FTC’s merger enforcement; its efforts to combat anticompetitive conduct in healthcare markets; the agency’s advocacy work, including its public hearings on competition and consumer protection in the 21st century; and its international competition engagement and cooperative activities. Chairman Joseph Simons and Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the U.S Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division delivered testimony and responded to questions as part of the Senate’s oversight hearing on the enforcement of the antitrust laws, available on video at the Committee’s website.
FTC Chairman Joseph J. Simons and Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the U.S Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division met with Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s Commissioner for Competition, in Washington D.C. to discuss current competition policy issues and cross-border cooperation. The discussions covered a wide range of topics, including digital markets, the proposed Multilateral Framework on Procedures, two-sided markets and platforms, data protection rules and cooperation, vertical mergers, unilateral conduct, and merger cooperation.
The FTC released a staff report examining ways to reduce the burden on licensed workers who move to another state or wish to market services across state lines. The Report, Options to Enhance Occupational License Portability, is part of the FTC’s ongoing Economic Liberty Task Force initiative to reduce or eliminate unnecessary occupational licensing requirements.
Christine S. Wilson was sworn in as a Commissioner of the FTC. President Donald J. Trump named Wilson to a term that expires on Sept. 25, 2025. Wilson previously served at the FTC as Chief of Staff to former Chairman Timothy Muris during the George W. Bush Administration, and as a law clerk in the Bureau of Competition. In between her periods of FTC service, Wilson practiced competition and consumer protection law in the private sector.
FTC staff will examine consumer protection and competition issues related to the online event ticket marketplace at a public workshop on March 27, 2019. The online event ticket industry has been a frequent topic of consumer and competitor complaints. FTC staff is seeking public input in advance of the workshop, including possible discussion topics and potential participants.
FTC Chairman Joseph J. Simons selected Gail F. Levine as a Deputy Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, effective Oct. 15. Levine returns to the FTC, having served as an Attorney Advisor to Chairman Deborah Majoras, as Deputy Assistant General Counsel, and as Assistant Director of the Office of Policy Planning. She is currently Director of U.S. Competition Law at Uber Technologies, Inc.
FTC Chairman Joseph J. Simons spoke at the Georgetown Law Global Antitrust Enforcement Symposium on his approach to antitrust. According to Simons, “one should be agnostic on theory, be skeptical about assumptions, try to rely as much as possible on evidence and the data, and re-assess the evidence and data periodically.” He stressed his intention to pursue vigorous enforcement as Chairman. Click the headline above for further details and his discussion of case selection criteria.
Econsumer.gov Releases Top Complaint Categories for April to June
Did you know? Econsumer.gov categorizes complaints by product service codes. There are more than 100, which you can download here. Contact Hui Ling Goh for more information on how to participate in econsumer.gov.
Under a new federal law implemented by the FTC, consumers who are concerned about identity theft or data breaches can freeze their credit and place one-year fraud alerts free of charge. A fraud alert requires businesses that check a consumer’s credit to get the consumer’s approval before opening a new account, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in the consumer’s name.
The FTC is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the opening of its first regional offices, and the important role they play in protecting consumers and promoting competition through law enforcement, partnerships, and outreach to community and industry groups.