Federal Trade Commission

On April 6, 2020, Tapplock, Inc., a Canadian maker of internet-connected smart locks, entered into a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) to resolve allegations that the company deceived consumers by falsely claiming that it had implemented reasonable steps to secure user data and that its locks were “unbreakable.”  The FTC alleged that these representations amounted to deceptive conduct under Section 5 of the FTC Act.  In its press release accompanying the settlement, the FTC provided guidance for IoT companies regarding the design and implementation of privacy and security measures for “smart” devices, as discussed further below in this post.
Continue Reading IoT Update: FTC Settles with Smart Lock Manufacturer and Provides Guidance for IoT Companies

The Federal Trade Commission has traditionally responded forcefully to public health and economic crises, and it is doing so again in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  The current crisis does present some additional complications, however, because of its impact on the operations of the agency itself.  Three particular aspects of the FTC’s consumer protection-related response stand out: (1) continuation of the agency’s scrutiny of false and deceptive product claims that seek to capitalize on the fears of consumers, (2) signs that the agency will work with businesses to accommodate the special pressures of the crisis, and (3) continuation but postponement of other, non-enforcement activities.

The FTC’s first consumer protection priority in response to the coronavirus pandemic has been to focus on especially egregious marketing scams that target particularly vulnerable populations.  The FTC has already issued a number of warning letters to sellers of supposed COVID-19 cures ranging from tea to edible silver and to voice over internet protocol (“VoIP”) service providers facilitating illegal coronavirus-related calls.  Fraud reports continue to rise rapidly: the FTC has received 7,800 coronavirus-related complaints this year, and almost half of these were filed in the last week.
Continue Reading The FTC’s Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic: Consumer Protection Priorities and Initial Actions

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, several U.S. government entities have released warnings about a rise in scams and fraudulent activity connected to the outbreak.  In a recent bulletin, the FBI warned of a rise in phishing emails, counterfeit treatments or equipment for COVID-19 preparedness, and fake emails from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) purporting to provide information about the outbreak.  The FTC, meanwhile, has released not only a general overview of the steps that it is taking to combat scams related to COVID-19, but has also provided a specific list of seven types of COVID-19 scams that it has observed targeting businesses.  More information about these scams, and guidance from the FBI and FTC on how to protect against and respond to some of the most common risks, is below.
Continue Reading COVID-19 Cybersecurity Advice: FTC and FBI Provide Guidance on Cybersecurity Scam Trends and Preventive Measures

In response to the drastic increase of U.S. employees working remotely, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”) have both issued guidance for employers and employees on best practices for teleworking securely.  In addition, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (“CISA”) has provided advice on identifying essential workers, including IT and cybersecurity personnel, in critical infrastructure sectors that should maintain normal work schedules if possible.  Each set of guidance is discussed in further detail below.
Continue Reading COVID-19 Cybersecurity Advice: FTC, NIST, and CISA Release Guidance on Secure Teleworking and Critical Infrastructure Jobs

Cardi B might like it, but the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) did not.  On March 5, 2020, the agency sent Cardi B and other high-profile influencers warning letters alleging that the influencers made inadequate disclosures in their endorsements of Teami tea.  The letters followed on the heels of the FTC’s proposed order against Teami, LLC for allegedly making deceptive claims about weight loss and other health benefits in their advertisements and failing to adequately instruct influencers about how to comply with the law when endorsing Teami products.
Continue Reading FTC Sends Warning Letters to Teami Tea Influencers

On March 5, Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the Kids Internet Design and Safety (KIDS) Act.  The bill, which covers online platforms directed to children and teenagers under 16 years old, aims to curb the time spent by these minors on such platforms and could dramatically affect advertising and influencer content on kids’ channels.

The bill would prohibit platforms directed to minors from implementing features that encourage users to spend more time online, such as “auto-play” settings that automatically load a new video once the selected one finishes playing, push alerts that encourage users to engage with the platform, and the display of positive feedback received from other users.  It would also ban badges or other visual incentives and rewards based on engagement with the platform.

Additionally, the KIDS Act would prohibit platforms from recommending or amplifying certain content involving sexual, violent, or other adult material, including gambling or “other dangerous, abusive, exploitative, or wholly commercial content.”  The bill would require the implementation of a mechanism for users to report suspected violations of content requirements.
Continue Reading New Bill Seeks to Impose Design Restrictions on Kids’ Online Content and Marketing

On February 12, 2020, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced a plan to create a new Data Protection Agency through her proposed legislation, the Data Protection Act of 2020 (S.3300).

Under the proposal, the new agency would replace the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as the “privacy cop on the beat.”  As such, the FTC’s current authority in the privacy space—including its ability to draft guidelines, conduct studies, and issue implementing regulations for certain federal privacy laws, would be transferred to the new agency.

As opposed to the Online Privacy Act, a bill introduced by Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-CA-18) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA-19) that also would create a new privacy agency, Sen. Gillibrand’s bill would not create a new omnibus federal privacy law.  Instead, it is focused on the creation of the Data Protection Agency and its rulemaking authority.  However, various aspects of the new agency’s authority provide valuable insights into what privacy regulation at the federal level might look like under the bill.
Continue Reading Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Proposes New Digital Privacy Agency

On January 30, House Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) introduced the Protecting the Information of our Vulnerable Children and Youth (“PRIVCY”) Act, a bill that promises to be a significant overhaul of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”).

Currently, COPPA applies only to personal information collected from children under 13 years old.  The PRIVCY Act would greatly expand COPPA’s scope by making any personal information – including biometric, geolocation, and inferred information, whether collected from the child or not – subject to the law’s requirements.  It also brings a new group of “young consumers” – individuals aged 12 to 18 years old – under the law’s umbrella.  The PRIVCY Act would obligate online sites and services that have actual or constructive knowledge that they “process” personal information about children or young consumers to provide notice to, and obtain consent from, those children’s parents or from those young consumers.  The bill also provides for rights to access, correction, and deletion of children’s and young consumers’ personal information, and it imposes limits on the ability of operators to disclose personal information to third parties.

Additionally, the privacy bill would completely repeal COPPA’s safe harbor provision, which enables covered operators to rely on a safe harbor if their privacy practices have been certified by FTC-approved organizations.  Currently, seven safe harbor organizations have been approved by the FTC.
Continue Reading Kids’ Privacy Bill Allowing for Private Suits Introduced in House

In a recent blog post, the Federal Trade Commission highlighted three key changes it made in 2019 in its approach to issuing orders in data security enforcement matters.  As stated by Andrew Smith, the Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in the blog post, the agency intends for these changes to strengthen consumer protections while providing companies with more specific and actionable guidance about how to improve their data security practices.  However, the FTC’s shift in approach may also have an impact on how companies view risks associated with FTC enforcement, as the changes could result in additional obligations for a company and members of its senior leadership team.
Continue Reading FTC Summarizes 2019 Changes to Data Security Orders

On January 6, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued a California-based mortgage broker for allegedly disclosing the personal information of customers who left negative Yelp reviews, and filed a settlement of the claims.

According to the complaint, Ramon Walker is the owner and operator of Mortgage Solutions FCS, Inc., a broker connecting residential mortgage lenders with prospective borrowers.  In providing its services, Mortgage Solutions allegedly obtains personal information directly from its customers and from their credit reports.

In response to negative customer reviews on Yelp, Walker allegedly posted comments that disclosed many reviewers’ personal information.  The complaint explains that Walker’s comments, publicly available on Yelp, discussed the reviewers’ “sources of income, debt-to-income ratios, credit history, taxes, family relationships, and health.”  For example, one comment disclosed a reviewer’s missed and late payments to banks, and publicly stated, “[a]ll of these late payments are having an enormous negative impact on your credit score.”
Continue Reading FTC Settles with Broker Who Allegedly Disclosed Personal Information of Yelp Reviewers