On December 20th, 2022, the Federal Trade Commission published new guidance regarding claims about the benefits and safety of health-related products: Health Products Compliance Guidance. This guidance replaces the Commission’s previous guidance, Dietary Supplements: An Advertising Guide for Industry, issued in 1998. The new guidance expands the scope to include other health-related products, such as foods, over-the-counter drugs, and devices.

Continue Reading FTC Announces Health Products Compliance Guidance

This week the Federal Trade Commission unveiled hefty settlements with Epic Games Inc.—the creator of the video game Fortnite—to resolve separate actions alleging violations of Section 5 of the FTC Act and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), respectively.

Epic Games will pay $245 million in consumer redress to settle the alleged Section 5 violations in an FTC administrative proceeding and will pay $275 million in monetary penalties to settle the COPPA action in federal court. The cases highlight two hot spots for the FTC—dark patterns and children’s privacy.

In its administrative complaint, the FTC alleges that Epic Games used dark patterns, making the gameplay interface confusing and tricking players into making in-game purchases, often when they did not intend to. Specifically, the complaint alleges that:

Continue Reading Ready, Aim, Fire: FTC Scores Record-Breaking $520 Million Settlement with Fortnite Creator Epic Games

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general in Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas settled with advertising giants Google and iHeartMedia for deceptive advertising and endorsements under Section 5 of the FTC Act.

The FTC and states allege that Google paid iHeartMedia to record and broadcast ads featuring “radio personalities” endorsing Google’s phone, the Pixel 4. In the ads, the radio personalities lavished praised on the Pixel 4, using first-person language to describe the Pixel 4’s functionalities and calling it their favorite phone.

The ads aired over 11,200 times between October and December 2019. The problem? The Pixel 4 had not been released for sale, and Google was unable to provide the phones to the radio personalities before the ads aired. In essence, the radio personalities were extolling the Pixel 4 without ever having used one.

Continue Reading FTC Sues Advertising Behemoths Google and iHeartMedia for Deceptive Endorsements by Radio Personalities

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

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”

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

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

The buzz around gig economy protections continued as the Federal Trade Commission took yet another action to safeguard gig workers. Last week, the FTC adopted a policy statement asserting its authority to address unfair and deceptive practices and anticompetitive conduct that harms workers in the gig economy.

The statement highlights data from several studies concerning the gig economy, including that it is expected to generate $455 billion in annual sales by 2023, and that 16% of Americans report earning income through an online gig platform. The statement also reports that, while gig work has already established itself in food delivery and transportation, it is now expanding into healthcare, retail, and other segments of the economy. The FTC noted that the decrease in demand for transportation during the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates “the precarious nature of gig work.”

The FTC statement focuses on three features of the gig economy “that implicate the Commission’s consumer protection and competition missions:”

Continue Reading New FTC Policy Statement: Agency Continues to Ramp Up Gig Worker Protections