On January 18, 2018, Federal Trade Commission Acting Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen released a summary of the agency’s recently major accomplishments
“In the past year, the Commission has actively pursued its mission to protect consumers and promote competition while avoiding undue burdens on legitimate businesses. American consumers, military members and law-abiding businesses deserve and expect nothing less from us. The agency has had a large, positive impact over the last 12 months and we have effectively focused agency resources where they will best serve the public good,” the Commission stated.
In addition to competition enforcement, the agency has continued to focus its resources on areas that cause the greatest harm to consumers. According to reports, it has brought or settled 109 consumer protection matters.
For example, the agency, along with 11 states and the District of Columbia, launched a coordinated federal-state law enforcement initiative, dubbed “Operation Game of Loans,” to target deceptive student loan debt relief scams.
Additionally, a federal court ordered Dish Network to pay $280 million in civil penalties and to stop alleged violations of the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule and other federal and state laws.
Overall, this past year the FTC filed or settled 85 consumer protection matters in district court, reached 24 administrative consent agreements related to consumer protection, and distributed over $269 million in redress to over 3 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. In December 2017, the FTC issued the agency’s first Office of Claims and Refunds Annual report, detailing the billions of dollars in consumer redress from the FTC’s work.
The Commission continues to pursue aggressive enforcement of competition and consumer protection laws, with a recent focus upon consumer privacy and data security.
For example, along with 32 State Attorneys General, the agency reached a settlement with Lenovo – one of the world’s largest computer manufacturers – over charges that the company harmed consumers by pre-loading software on some laptops that compromised security protections to deliver ads to consumers.
The Commission obtained a settlement of its privacy case against the ride-sharing company, Uber Technologies, Inc., that will require the company to implement a comprehensive privacy program and get regular independent audits.
The FTC also obtained $650,000 in a settlement with the electronic toy manufacturer VTech and its U.S. subsidiary over allegations that VTech violated children’s online privacy laws.
The Commission also charged TaxSlayer, the operator of an online tax preparation service, with violating federal rules on financial privacy and security and sued the operators of MyEx, a revenge porn website that collects nude or sexually explicit images of individual consumers for posting.
The FTC also exercised its enforcement muscle as it pertains to the European Union-United States Privacy Shield framework, settling charges against three U.S. companies for misleading consumers about their participation in the framework.
The FTC’s Informational Injury Workshop held in December addressed questions such as how to best characterize these injuries, how to measure accurately such injuries and their prevalence, and what factors consumers consider when deciding whether to provide their personal information.
The FTC also published a series of “Stick with Security” blog posts to help businesses ensure they are taking reasonable steps to protect and secure consumer data, and held a joint workshop with the Department of Education to examine Student Privacy and Ed Tech.
The agency scheduled its third PrivacyCon conference to encourage the next generation of privacy and data security researchers to explore economic questions in privacy and data security.
Amongst other efforts, the FTC has announced that it is working to reduce excessive regulations and bureaucracy that create significant burdens on the public. The Commission announced internal process reforms in the agency’s Bureau of Consumer Protection to lessen the burden of information requests and improve transparency in Commission investigations.
Takeaway: The Commission will continue to vigorously enforce competition and consumer protection laws, promote economic liberty, and protecting consumer privacy.
If you are interested in learning more about the agency’s efforts, or are the subject of a regulatory investigation or enforcement action, consult with an experienced FTC and consumer protection defense attorney that possesses solid working relationships with the enforcement community.
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