Tuesday, June 01, 2010

FTC Testimony Highlights Privacy Protection, Competition Efforts

This posting was written by Preston Carter and Darius Sturmer.

In testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government of the Committee on Appropriations on May 20, the FTC described the agency’s continuing work to promote competition and protect American consumers, including initiatives to stop fraud targeting financially distressed consumers and protect privacy.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz summarized the FTC’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget request, noting that strong support from Congress has made the agency more effective in its consumer protection efforts.

The testimony stated that, in the past year, the FTC has brought almost 40 law enforcement actions to stop scams that prey on consumers suffering from the financial downturn, and the agency is also engaged in rulemaking and consumer education efforts related to financial services.

In the financial services area alone, the FTC has filed more than 100 actions over the past five years, and obtained nearly $500 million in redress for consumers in the past 10 years.

Privacy Protection

The testimony noted that the FTC has taken 29 actions against companies that failed to protect consumers’ personal information. These actions resulted, for example, in the agency’s securing of $11 million for consumer redress from LifeLock, Inc. for allegedly making false identity theft prevention claims (CCH Trade Regulation Reporter ¶16,421); its shutting down of a rogue Internet service provider that helped distribute illegal spam, child pornography, and other harmful content (CCH Trade Regulation Reporter ¶16,451); and its settlement of a lawsuit against Sears for not fully disclosing the scope of consumers’ personal information the company collected (CCH Trade Regulation Reporter ¶16,308).

To help consumers check for inaccurate information on their credit reports, the FTC amended the Free Credit Report Rule to help consumers avoid “free” offers that cost money. The FTC also stated that it is examining consumer privacy more broadly, especially in light of merging technologies and business models, including social networking, cloud computing, online behavior advertising, and mobile marketing.

Noting the FTC’s continuing enforcement of the Do Not Call Registry, which protects almost 200 million telephone numbers, the testimony stated that in the past year the FTC filed nine law enforcement actions against “robocallers” making deceptive telemarketing pitches.

Among these were suits against DirecTV and Comcast, which paid $2.3 million and $900,000, respectively, to settle charges that they called consumers who had asked not to be called (CCH Trade Regulation Reporter ¶16,291). More recently, the FTC announced a $500,000 settlement with Diamond Phone Card, Inc. for overstating the number of calling minutes on its prepaid calling cards (CCH Trade Regulation Reporter ¶16,452).

Also, as stated in the testimony, the FTC has worked to protect children by filing more than 14 lawsuits to enforce the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, obtaining more than $3.2 million in civil penalties for law violations.

Anticompetitive Practices

According to the testimony, “[o]ne of the Commission’s highest antitrust priorities is stopping pay-for-delay patent settlements in the pharmaceutical industry, a practice that costs consumers $3.5 billion each year.”

The agency “has devoted substantial resources to this issue, and is continuing to conduct new investigations into pay-for-delay agreements.”

The text of the testimony can be found here on the FTC website.

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