Chris Boone focuses his practice on regulatory issues related to payment processing, blockchain, advertising and marketing, transportation, and telecommunications. Chris provides counsel on regulatory compliance, contract negotiations, and general business matters. He also regularly assists clients in responding to federal and state investigative inquiries, demands, and complaints from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), state attorneys general, and other federal and state authorities.

In its much-anticipated cryptocurrency executive order issued earlier this month, the Biden administration called for a coordinated interagency approach to the regulation of digital assets and to the study of their potential risks.

A significant part of this effort focuses on the nation’s primary consumer protection agencies, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Historically, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) have played the primary roles in regulating digital assets, with the FTC and CFPB largely taking a wait-and-see approach. But this has left open a regulatory gap for crypto activities that do not involve a security or a commodity derivative.

Continue Reading Biden Tasks Consumer Protection Agencies with Stepping Up Cryptocurrency Oversight

A class action lawsuit filed against Kim Kardashian, Floyd Mayweather, and former professional basketball player Paul Pierce earlier this month underscores the need for celebrity endorsers to take care when they approach any endorsement activity in the cryptocurrency space.

The lawsuit alleges that the celebrities collaborated with Ethereum Max, a company offering ERC-20 cryptocurrency tokens (EMAX Tokens), and its executives to engage in a “pump-and-dump” scheme promoting investments in the company’s tokens. The complaint alleges that the three celebrity influencers misleadingly promoted EMAX Tokens to potential investors, touting the ability of investors to make significant returns due to the favorable “tokenomics” of the EMAX Tokens, when in fact the tokens were practically worthless. The class action alleges violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law, California’s Consumers Legal Remedies Act, aiding and abetting, and unjust enrichment/restitution.

According to the complaint, EthereumMax’s entire business model relies on marketing and promotional activities, and the celebrity promoters received EMAX Tokens and/or other compensation in return for promoting the tokens. (EthereumMax “has no connection” to Ether, the second-largest cryptocurrency, the lawsuit said, adding that its branding appears to be an effort to mislead investors into believing the token is part of the Ethereum network.) The promotional activities at issue included, among other things, making social media posts, wearing EMAX-branded shirts, and promoting the cryptocurrency at a conference.

Continue Reading “Are You Guys Into Crypto????”: Celebrities Promoting Cryptocurrencies Become Class Action Targets

Game developers and platform providers are increasingly integrating non-fungible tokens (NFTs), virtual currencies, and digital marketplaces into their games and platforms, creating seamless, novel, and interactive experiences. While the industry has moved ahead quickly, federal and state regulators are taking a much closer look at how these technologies fit within existing legal frameworks.

In a recent webinar, partner Ellen Berge and associate Chris Boone of Venable’s Advertising Law and Payments groups explored the latest regulatory developments and addressed how to spot and avoid compliance and regulatory risks associated with NFTs, virtual currencies, and other platform-based monetization mechanics. We received insightful questions from members of the audience, which our lawyers answer below.

Continue Reading You Asked, We Answered: NFTs and Virtual Currency in Games: Compliance Issues and Legal Risks

Last week the FTC announced it had settled with mobile advertising platform Tapjoy regarding allegations that it failed to provide in-game rewards that users were promised for completing advertising offers. Commissioners Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter also issued a Joint Statement on the settlement, criticizing mobile app “gatekeepers” for excessive “rent extraction” from mobile gaming apps, which they believe has forced developers to adopt alternative – and often harmful – means of generating revenue, such as loyalty offers and loot boxes. The settlement, and particularly the separate concurrence written by Democratic Commissioners Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Slaughter, highlights the increased scrutiny over the entire mobile gaming ecosystem and the various businesses that operate within it.

Tapjoy operates a mobile advertising platform, acting as a middleman between advertisers, gamers, and game developers. The platform integrates “offers” into mobile games, promising users in-game currency and other rewards for completing the offers and promising developers a percentage of Tapjoy’s advertising revenue. Advertisers pay Tapjoy for each consumer who is induced to complete an offer, which often requires users to submit personal information or spend money, for example, by purchasing a product, enrolling in a continuity program, or completing a survey. Other offer requirements may include downloading an additional app or watching a short video.

Continue Reading FTC Cracks Down on Mobile Gaming Middlemen Offering In-Game Rewards and Offers

The FTC recently released its staff perspective paper on video game loot boxes. The report details discussions from the FTC’s loot box workshop that took place in August last year, summarizing key points and takeaways. You can read our write up of the workshop here.

The workshop, “Inside the Game,” brought video game industry representatives, researchers, and consumer advocates together to examine consumer protection issues related to loot boxes and related microtransactions in video games.

A loot box is a digital container of virtual goods that a user can purchase in-game using real‑world currency. A user does not know what is in the loot box before purchasing. The loot box may contain digital goods (such as character skins, tools, weapons, etc.) that the user can use in the game. Importantly, the user cannot choose the contents of the loot box. The box could contain an extremely rare/sought-after item or the contents could be a collection of items already owned by the user (or somewhere in between).

Continue Reading FTC Scrutinizes Loot Boxes – What are the Odds?

The FTC has issued a Proposed Notice requesting public comment on whether to make changes to its Endorsement Guides (“Guides”) as part of the agency’s periodic retrospective review. This review will serve as a key opportunity for industry participants to shape what happens next by showing what they are seeing in the marketplace when it comes to endorsements and testimonials, consumers’ understanding of them, and the effects of new technology and platforms.

While the FTC’s standard practice is to review its rules and guides every 10 years, this review promises to be anything but standard. This is particularly true considering that FTC Commissioner Chopra weighed in with a separate statement, noting that he hopes that the Commission will consider taking steps beyond the issuance of voluntary guidance, including codifying elements of the existing Endorsement Guides into formal rules that could trigger civil penalties and damages. He also suggested that the FTC develop requirements for technology platforms that facilitate and profit from influencer marketing and specify the requirements that companies must adhere to in their contractual arrangements with influencers. The Guides were first issued in 1980, and the Commission last sought public comment on them in 2007. Since that time, endorsement-related practices (and the media where they appear) have changed dramatically, with new platforms and apps emerging that provide new ways for companies and their endorsers to reach consumers. In an attempt to keep up with the changing times, the FTC issued an FAQ-type of document, Endorsement Guides: What People are Asking, and has modified it multiple times over the years.

Continue Reading FTC Aims to Shake Up Endorsements, Seeks Public Comment on Its Endorsement Guides

As 2019 goes into full swing, it’s important for providers of payment processing services (referred to here as “acquirers”) and their merchants or submerchants to prepare for the various regulatory and industry changes coming this year. One such significant change comes in the form of Mastercard’s updated rules for negative option billing programs.

Set to take effect on April 12, 2019, Mastercard’s new rules will tighten consumer protection requirements for negative option merchants and their acquirers that process Mastercard transactions. Several laws such as the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act, and various state laws already apply to negative option billing programs, but Mastercard’s new rules go even further. Among other things, the rules include a requirement for merchants to notify consumers at the end of a trial period before charging the consumer.

Applicability

Notably, the new rules cover any card-not-present transaction where the consumer purchases a subscription to automatically receive a physical product (such as cosmetics, healthcare products, or vitamins) on a recurring basis. Fully digital services are not covered.

This means the rules apply to free trial offers and most forms of negative option programs involving product sales. The negative option plan may be initiated by a free trial, nominally priced trial, or no trial at all. However, if a trial is used, special rules apply to ensure the consumer is aware of and consents to subsequent payments at the trial’s conclusion.

Continue Reading Mastercard Targets Negative Options In 2019 – Demands Transparency

request for informationCFPB Expands Call for Evidence with Additional RFIs

The CFPB has now issued six RFIs as part of Acting Director Mulvaney’s Call for Evidence Regarding Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Functions, which we have previously covered. The RFIs provide industry participants a chance to comment on the CFPB’s rules, policies, and practices regarding investigations, examinations, enforcement

virtual currencyThe Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing on Tuesday on virtual currencies and the role of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) in overseeing the virtual currency industry. Witnesses included SEC Chairman Jay Clayton and CFTC Chairman Christopher Giancarlo.

A key takeaway of the hearing was a concern among regulators and Committee members of opportunistic fraud taking place amid the hype around virtual currencies, also commonly known as cryptocurrencies.

Among these concerns were those involving celebrity endorsements of token sales in Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). In some cases these sales may be fraudulent. CFTC Chairman Giancarlo noted one example where his agency took action against a company that solicited customers for a virtual currency known as My Big Coin. Mr. Giancarlo stated that within the agency that coin came to be known as “My Big Con,” as the company used the funds to purchase personal luxury items rather than using the funds for their purported purposes.

Continue Reading Senate Banking Committee Holds Hearing on Virtual Currencies – Warns of Celebrity Endorsements

credit cardsThe days of signing your grocery receipt may be over soon, as the four major credit card brands (American Express, Discover, Visa, and Mastercard) are each making efforts to do away with signatures for various credit card transactions. The extent and geographic reach of these changes, however, are different for each brand, but one commonality is that the changes will begin in April 2018. In particular,

  • MasterCard will no longer require signatures for purchases in the U.S. and Canada;
  • Discover is doing away with the requirement in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean;
  • American Express is eliminating the requirement globally; and
  • Visa is making the signature requirement optional for EMV contact or contactless chip-enabled merchants in North America.


Continue Reading Say Goodbye to Credit Card Signature Requirements