Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Leibowitz Recites FTC Accomplishments, Future Plans at Nomination Hearing

This posting was written by John W. Arden.

At a hearing on his nomination for a second term as Commissioner yesterday, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz recounted some of the achievements of the agency during the last few years and spoke about a “portfolio of issues” that he plans to address during his next term.

Speaking before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Leibowitz said that it has been “a wonderful opportunity” to serve on the FTC for the past seven years, including more than two years as Chairman.

“Just three years shy of our centennial, the FTC is the nation’s premier consumer protection agency,” he said in a prepared statement. “We play a critical role in freeing the marketplace from predatory, fraudulent, and anticompetitive conduct that tilts the playing field against consumers and honest business people.”

According to the Chairman, the “small agency with a big mission” has prioritized the pursuit of unfair and deceptive practices aimed at financially distressed consumers, addressed consumer privacy from both enforcement and policy perspectives, focused on health care competition, and monitored closely petroleum markets.

The growth of the Internet, together with the economic downturn, has fueled a resurgence of “last dollar frauds” aimed at the most vulnerable consumers. These include foreclosure rescue scams, sham debt relief, and bogus job opportunities. The Commission has partnered with state attorneys general and other state agencies to bring more than 400 cases against such schemes.

Consumer privacy has been—and will continue to be—a major focus on Commission enforcement and policy, according to Leibowitz. In the past decade, the FTC has brought more than 100 spam and spyware cases, more than 30 data security cases, and nearly 80 cases for violation of the Do Not Call rule.

Last December, the FTC issued a report setting forth critical self-regulatory principles that seek to promote consumer privacy, while allow industry to innovate on the Internet, he said.

“Of course, protecting privacy in the face of new technologies will remain a challenge. We are aware of this Committee’s concerns about the privacy implications of mobile apps, flash cookies, geolocation, and facial recognition; the value of industry-wide codes of conduct; and the difficulty safeguarding privacy when users of electronic devices every year seem to grow younger as well as more tech-savvy than their parents.”

Health care competition will remain a top priority for the Commission, particularly challenging hospital mergers that are likely to raise prices and “pay for delay” pharmaceutical settlements, he said.

In light of the impact of gasoline prices on American families, the FTC will continue to monitor petroleum markets closely. Recently, the FTC staff issued a study on examining the various factors that increase the price of gasoline, including OPEC’s inherently anticompetitive behavior and the rising demand in China and India.

The agency will continue to issue industry studies such as the periodic reports about the marketing of violent entertainment to children and the marketing of healthy food to children, the Chairman concluded.

Text of Commissioner Leibowitz’s prepared statement appears here on the FTC website.

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