At its most recent open meeting, the Federal Trade Commission voted unanimously to issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, seeking public comment on whether to modify or expand its Business Opportunity Rule.

The Business Opportunity Rule, first adopted in 2012, requires sellers of “business opportunities” to be able to substantiate any earnings claims they make, and to make certain enumerated disclosures pertaining to the potential transaction. These disclosures include:

  • The seller’s identifying information
  • Whether the seller is making earnings claims and, if so, substantiation for those claims
  • Whether the seller, affiliates of the seller, or its leaders have been involved in legal actions concerning misrepresentation, fraud, securities law violations, or unfair or deceptive practices in the previous 10 years
  • The terms of the seller’s cancellation or refund policy, if it has one
  • A list of people who have purchased the business opportunity in the previous three years


Continue Reading Proposed Rulemaking: FTC Dials in on Business Opportunities

Recent trends indicate that consumers and the U.S. government are paying more attention to where products are sourced from.  

The Biden administration, for example, has made efforts to raise federal procurement standards for products “Made in America.” Specifically, the administration in March announced a final rule that outlined gradual increases to the “Made in America” requirement. As of October 25, the rule requires that federally procured products under the Buy American Act must have 60% of the value of their component parts manufactured in the United States. Under the prior rules, the Buy American Act only required that products contain 55% component parts manufactured in America in order to qualify for federal procurement. The threshold will further increase to 65% in 2024 and 75% in 2029.

Continue Reading An Update to “Made in USA” for Federally Procured Products and FTC’s “Made in USA”

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a press release, announcing a $100 million settlement with Vonage, an internet-based telephone service company, for alleged violations of the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA). The action underscores the FTC’s continued focus on “dark patterns” and illustrates the agency’s efforts to require companies to go beyond the plain requirements of ROSCA in enforcement settlements.  

The FTC’s complaint alleged that Vonage offered free trials to business and residential customers for telephone plans. Unless the customer took affirmative action to opt out before the trial ended, Vonage would enroll the customer in an autorenewing monthly phone plan.

Continue Reading Vonage, Autorenewals, and the FTC’s Ever-Expanding Interpretation of ROSCA

Last week at its monthly open meeting, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) unveiled two new rulemaking proceedings: the first deals with deceptive customer reviews and endorsements and the second with so-called junk fees

Both rulemakings are in their nascent stages. Last week’s actions—the issuance of two advance notices of proposed rulemaking (ANPRs)—simply request information from the public on the consumer harms caused by fake and paid reviews and junk fees. The road from ANPR to final trade rule is a long and winding one, particularly given the number of new rulemakings upon which this FTC has embarked, which Commissioner Christine Wilson has termed “Ruleapalooza.”

Continue Reading FTC Issues New Rulemaking Proceedings on Customer Reviews and “Junk Fees”

At a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) event last week, Chair Lina Khan said children are more susceptible than adults to deceptive or harmful practices, especially those that blur the line between advertising and entertainment.

The event, “Protecting Kids from Stealth Advertising in Digital Media,” included legal and child development experts, researchers, members of industry, and consumer advocacy groups. Together they discussed children’s development and ability to detect and understand advertising, the potential harms to children from blurred, deceptive, or manipulative advertising practices as well as the ways to mitigate them, and the significance of effective disclosures.

In her opening remarks, Khan said children often are unable to understand the difference between advertisements and organic content. Without realizing it they may end up engaging in commercial transactions or provide companies with their personal information without comprehending the privacy risks. Khan also noted that the FTC is considering whether to update its Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule, which has not been updated since 2013, and requested comments on its advanced notice of proposed rulemaking related to commercial surveillance.

Continue Reading FTC to Digital Media Advertisers: It’s Time to Protect Kids

The FTC’s ears must have been burning. Yesterday, just hours after we finished a webinar discussing the latest developments in the FTC’s push for more rulemaking, the FTC announced an upcoming open meeting where it will propose issuing three advanced notices of proposed rulemaking (ANPR).

First, the FTC will consider whether to initiate rulemaking to

Customer reviews and ratings are powerful, low-cost marketing tools. Technology now allows marketers to harness this power on a scale that was unimaginable even five years ago. The ability to solicit, capture, and post reviews and ratings is virtually seamless. But it is just as easy to seek shortcuts or abuse the system. In response, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has devoted resources to addressing consumer review fraud, including through public education. Early in the year, it issued nonbinding guidance for both marketers and online review platforms, warning against potentially deceptive acts, such as faking, manipulating, or suppressing online reviews, as well as paying for higher rankings from purportedly “independent” consumer ranking websites. Online reviews should reflect customers’ honest opinions. So how does the FTC suggest you get there?

Continue Reading A Sign of the Times: Federal Trade Commission Releases Guidance on Consumer Reviews

Last week, the National Advertising Division (NAD) held its annual conference. The wide array of speakers covered a broad range of topics, from the metaverse to dark patterns, social justice, environmental claims, and (as always) substantiation and disclosures. Multiple speakers from the Federal Trade Commission also presented and gave insight into the FTC’s current priorities.

The regulators. Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, made clear that the agency is closely tracking practices it believes result in consumer economic harm and consumer surveillance and privacy issues. He made clear that the Commission is not shying away from seeking big ticket monetary relief against national well-known advertisers, and intends to hold individuals and executives responsible for their companies’ advertising practices. In addition, Serena Viswanathan, FTC’s Associate Director in the Division of Advertising Practices, highlighted the Commission’s focus on disclosure issues as well as endorsements and reviews, such as review solicitation and aggregation, and product ranking websites.

Continue Reading Takeaways from NAD 2022: The FTC’s Enforcement Priorities, New Technologies, Dark Patterns, and the Usual Suspects

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission turned its attention to the mortgage relief industry once again. In its most recent enforcement action, the FTC joined forces for the first time with the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI).

On September 12, 2022, the agencies jointly filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against several companies alleged to have operated a mortgage relief scam. Two days later, the court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) appointing a receiver and freezing the defendants’ assets until the parties can be heard on whether to issue a preliminary injunction.

The defendants consist of various corporate entities doing business as Home Matters USA, Academy Home Services, Atlantic Pacific Service Group, and Golden Home Services America, and two individual defendants who own the companies.

Continue Reading FTC Joins with California DFPI to Obtain Asset Freeze Against Mortgage Relief Business

By a unanimous 5-0 vote, the Federal Trade Commission last week released a staff report that sheds light on the agency’s enforcement positions and priorities regarding digital “dark patterns,” which the FTC defines as interface designs used to manipulate consumers into making decisions about purchases and personal data that they otherwise would not have.

Stemming from a public workshop the FTC hosted in April 2021, the report, “Bringing Dark Patterns to Light,” uses examples and illustrations to catalog and criticize numerous commonly seen practices in e-commerce, and includes an appendix describing types of dark patterns, while also stressing that dark patterns have a stronger effect, and by extension cause greater consumer harm, when they are used in combination, rather than in isolation.

Given Chair Lina Khan’s ambitious enforcement and policy goals for the agency, which we’ve previously discussed, anyone who engages with consumers online should consider the report both a reference and a warning.  

Continue Reading The FTC Brings More Light to Dark Patterns in New Staff Report