Annual Highlights 2019

A Message from Chairman Joe Simons

portrait of Chairman Joe SimonsAs we share this message, the country is facing significant challenges and uncertainty as we cope with the Coronavirus pandemic. I could not be prouder of how the Federal Trade Commission and its dedicated staff have rallied behind our critical missions: to protect consumers and promote competition. The FTC rapidly transitioned to almost-entirely remote operations and, as of this writing, has barely missed a beat. Today more than ever, it is critical that the FTC continue to pursue vigorous enforcement, effective advocacy, and thoughtful policy work on behalf of American consumers. Times like these highlight the talent and resilience of our staff, and I am honored to work alongside them.

While we continue to pursue new matters, I appreciate this opportunity to reflect on our prior accomplishments. I am pleased to share the FTC’s 2019 Annual Highlights, which describes last year’s most significant efforts to protect consumers and promote competition. In 2019, the FTC challenged anticompetitive mergers and conduct to protect consumers from higher prices and other anticompetitive harm, and also brought numerous enforcement actions targeting consumer fraud, deception in the marketplace, and harms to consumer privacy. To ensure that we harness our resources effectively and efficiently, we focus our work on areas that have the greatest consumer impact: technology, health care, and consumer products and services.

The Commission continued its efforts to challenge harmful mergers and stop anticompetitive business conduct in 2019. For example, as part of its program to stop pharmaceutical companies’ anticompetitive conduct to hinder generic competition, the FTC charged Vyera Pharmaceuticals, LLC with engaging in an anticompetitive scheme to preserve a monopoly for the life-saving drug, Daraprim. The Bureau of Competition established a new Technology Enforcement Division to investigate potential anticompetitive conduct in digital platform markets and take swift action where appropriate. The FTC also brought its first case involving a health information platform, alleging Surescripts LLC unlawfully maintained its dominant position in two e-prescription markets through exclusionary conduct.

In 2019, the FTC achieved a number of successes on the consumer protection front. The FTC required The University of Phoenix to pay $50 million in cash and cancel $141 million in debt owed to the school by students harmed by their deceptive ads, which touted job opportunities and relationships with top tech companies. The FTC continued to demonstrate its privacy enforcement leadership, announcing record-breaking settlements in its actions against Facebook and Google and YouTube. And we brought a steady stream of actions involving frauds of every stripe, from imposter scams to pyramid schemes, from illegal robocalls to phony business opportunities. In all, the Commission’s actions led to the return of more than $232 million in refunds to consumers across the country.

We know the FTC’s staff is fantastic—and we also know that they are our agency’s greatest strength and most prized asset. In 2019, the FTC maintained its high ranking among the Best Places to Work in Federal Government for agencies of our size, with #1 ratings in multiple subcategories. In addition, the Bureaus of Consumer Protection and Competition both ranked in the top 10 out of a total of 420 subcomponents from all federal agencies. These awards confirm one of my most deeply held management philosophies: when we focus on maintaining and improving staff morale, we end up with more satisfied employees and we boost productivity.

While we celebrate huge accomplishments from 2019 and early 2020 (including five deal challenges voted out by the Commission in January and February alone), we also believe our best work is yet to come. Our staff and my fellow Commissioners already are looking ahead to new opportunities. In February, the Commission issued 6(b) orders to five major technology firms to examine past acquisitions, including how these firms report their transactions to the federal antitrust agencies, and whether these companies are making potentially anticompetitive acquisitions of nascent or potential competitors that fall below HSR filing thresholds. The Coronavirus pandemic is, unfortunately, directly influencing our consumer protection mission, with new scams arising daily. Our staff is monitoring the marketplace, and we will take swift action where appropriate. We already have issued joint warning letters with the FDA to seven companies about allegedly deceptive or unsubstantiated claims to treat Coronavirus, and we have provided tips for consumers to spot Coronavirus scams. Our commitment to protect consumers and promote competition is unwavering, and despite current challenges we will continue our work on behalf of American consumers.