International Monthly: October 2020

 
FTC International Monthly: U.S. Competition, Consumer Protection and Privacy News
 

OCTOBER 2020

Competition

International Competition Network Addresses Enforcement and Policy Challenges of the Digital Economy at United States-Hosted 19th Annual Conference

ICN

The International Competition Network held its 19th annual conference on September 14-17.  Co-hosted by the FTC and the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, this was the ICN’s first virtual conference.  The conference examined a range of competition enforcement and policy issues, including those involving the digital economy.  More than 2500 delegates from around the world participated in the conference, including agency leadership and staff, as well as competition experts from international organizations and the legal, business, and academic communities.  Copies of the agendaconference sessions and transcripts, and videos submitted by academics and competition agency officials are available online.

Peabody/Arch Coal

FTC Prevails in Effort To Block Peabody/Arch Coal Joint Venture; Parties Abandon Deal

A U.S. District Court granted the FTC’s request for a preliminary injunction stopping Peabody Energy Corp. and Arch Coal’s proposed joint venture, which would have combined their coal mining operations in the Southern Powder River Basin.  The FTC alleged that the transaction likely would have raised the price of coal to power-generating utilities, and ultimately to consumers.  The parties subsequently abandoned the proposed joint venture.

FTC Requests Rehearing in Qualcomm Case

The FTC filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit requesting rehearing of the Court’s August decision in the matter of FTC v. Qualcomm Inc.  In its 2017 complaint, the FTC charged Qualcomm with using anticompetitive tactics to maintain monopolies in markets for the supply of modem chips, components that facilitate cellular communications in cellphones and other consumer products.  The August 2020 decision reversed the U.S. District Court’s ruling in favor of the FTC, which had found that the company violated U.S. antitrust law.

FTC Expands Merger Retrospective Program

The FTC’s Bureau of Economics announced a revamped Merger Retrospective Program.  The revamped program will expand and formalize the Bureau’s retrospective research efforts that have already produced studies analyzing the effects of a range of consummated mergers over the last 35 years.  Merger retrospective analysis seeks to determine, after the fact, whether a merger has affected competition in one or more of the markets impacted by the merger.  The analysis can shed light on whether the agency’s threshold for bringing an enforcement action in a merger case has been too permissive.  It can also assess the performance of a pricing pressure index, merger simulation model, or other tools used to predict the effects of a proposed merger.


Consumer Protection and Privacy

FTC Joins Four States in Action To Shut Down Alleged Sham Charity Operation

A sprawling fundraising operation that allegedly scammed consumers out of millions of dollars will be permanently banned from charitable fundraising along with its owner and others involved in its operation as a result of a lawsuit brought by the FTC and several state Attorneys General.  Although the sham charities claimed to use consumers’ donations to help people in need, the complaint alleges that the defendants pocketed as much as 90 percent of the money raised.  Under the proposed settlements, all of the defendants (who have been the subject of previous law enforcement actions) will be permanently prohibited from participating in any charity fundraising, will be subject to significant monetary judgments, and will be required to surrender assets. 

Success By Health

FTC Adds New Charges, Additional Defendants in Case Against Alleged Pyramid Scheme

The FTC has added new charges and defendants to its ongoing case against Success By Health and related corporate and individual defendants who, the FTC charged in January, operated an “instant coffee” pyramid scheme that used false promises of wealth and income to entice thousands of consumers to join and purchase expensive consumer goods and services.  The amended complaint alleges that the defendants were also operating a travel-related pyramid scheme known as VOZ Travel, which promised consumers the right to sell discounted travel through a never-launched booking platform and to earn rewards based on their ability to recruit others willing to pay the steep membership fees, ranging from $1,000-$2,795.  In addition to the VOZ Travel charges, the complaint adds two related defendants including one based in Uruguay.

Second Round of Refunds, Totaling $147 Million, Sent to Consumers As a Result of Multi-Agency Case Against Western Union

The Western Union Remission Fund began its second distribution of approximately $147 million in funds forfeited to the U.S. government from the Western Union Company to approximately 33,000 victims located in the United States and abroad.  These victims, many of whom were elderly victims of consumer fraud and abuse, will be recovering the full amount of their losses.

Western Union

This is the second in a series of payment distributions to victims resulting from the law enforcement actions brought against Western Union by the FTC, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.  The FTC’s complaint against Western Union alleged that for many years, Western Union was aware that fraudsters around the world used the company’s money transfer system to bilk consumers and that some Western Union agents were complicit in the frauds.  The company’s settlement with the FTC required Western Union to pay $586 million in monetary relief.


In Other News

econsumer

Brazil’s SENACON Joins econsumer.gov 

The Secretaria Nacional do Consumidor (SENACON), Brazil’s consumer protection agency, became the newest member of econsumer.gov.  Brazil’s National Secretary of Consumer Protection, Juliana Domingues, announced SENACON’s membership at a September 25 press conference in Brazil.  FTC Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips welcomed SENACON and provided recorded remarks.  With SENACON on board, econsumer.gov now includes agencies in 40 countries.  Econsumer.gov is a joint effort of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN) to gather and share cross-border consumer complaints, with a web portal available to consumers in eight languages.  Contact Hui Ling Goh at hgoh@ftc.gov for more information on how your agency can participate.

FTC and DOJ Seek Comments on Proposed Amendments to HSR Rules

The FTC will publish in the Federal Register notices regarding proposed changes to the rules and interpretations implementing the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act.  The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposes two changes to existing rules, requiring filers to disclose additional information about their associates and to aggregate acquisitions in the same issuer across those entities, and exempting acquisition of 10 percent or less of an issuer’s voting securities unless the acquiring person already has a competitively significant relationship with the issuer.  The Advance Notice of Public Rulemaking seeks to gather information on seven topics that will help determine the path for future amendments: the size of transaction; real estate investment trusts; non-corporate entities; acquisitions of small amounts of voting securities; influence outside the scope of voting securities; transactions or devices for avoiding HSR Act requirements; and issues pertaining to the HSR filing process.