News from the Federal Trade Commission - January 2013

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Penn Corner: Your update from the Federal Trade Commission

Google Agrees to Change Practices


Google has agreed to change some business practices to resolve FTC concerns that they could stifle competition for products like smartphones, tablets, and gaming consoles. Under the settlement, Google will honor promises to allow competitors to license certain essential patents needed to make popular devices on “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.” Otherwise, people could see higher prices, fewer choices, and less innovation, the FTC says. Under a separate voluntary commitment, Google is giving advertisers more flexibility in how they run their online ad campaigns, and also has agreed not to take online content like star ratings and user reviews from travel, shopping, and other websites to improve its own search offerings.



Amazon, Leon Max, Macy’s, and Sears have agreed to pay penalties totaling $1.26 million to settle charges they labeled and advertised products as “bamboo” when the merchandise actually was made of rayon. According to the FTC, the penalties reflect the amount of products the retailers continued to sell after ignoring warning letters the FTC sent them and other companies in 2010. While so-called bamboo textiles often are promoted as environmentally friendly, the process for manufacturing rayon — even when it is made from bamboo — is far from “green.” Extracting bamboo fibers is expensive and time-consuming, and textiles made just from bamboo fiber don’t feel silky smooth, the FTC says. Read “Bamboo” Fabrics for more.


Updated Rules on Kids’ Privacy

kids’ privacy

To strengthen kids’ privacy protections and give parents more control over their child’s information as technology changes, the FTC has updated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule. Among other things, the updates clarify that personal information — which can’t be knowingly collected from kids under 13 without a parent’s permission — includes geolocation, photographs, and videos. Effective July 2013, the changes also cover identifiers like IP addresses and mobile device IDs that can recognize users over time and across different sites and services. No changes to the requirement that site operators must keep kids’ information secure; in addition, they still can’t require more personal information than is reasonably necessary for kids to take part in an activity.

Data Brokers and You

your data

The FTC has issued orders for nine data brokers to submit information about how they collect and use your data. Data brokers get your personal information from a variety of public and non-public sources and resell it to other companies. Despite benefits like preventing fraud and helping companies better target their products and services, concerns about the privacy implications of big data have been raised. The FTC will look at what data is collected, where it’s collected from, what’s done with it, and the extent to which people can correct their data or opt out of having it sold. The FTC has called on the industry to improve the transparency of its practices.


Criminal Background App Breaks Law

criminal background app

A group behind mobile apps selling criminal background screening reports have agreed to settle FTC charges that they operated as a consumer reporting agency without following requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) — like ensuring that information was accurate and would be used only for legally permissible purposes. Without FCRA’s safeguards, people’s reputations and employment prospects could be harmed, the FTC says. According to the complaint, Filiquarian Publishing LLC, Choice Level LLC, and their CEO said people could use the apps to access hundreds of thousands of criminal records and conduct searches on potential employees. An app that included unlimited searches in a particular state or county could be downloaded for just 99 cents. 


“The changes Google has agreed to make will ensure that consumers continue to reap the benefits of competition in the online marketplace and in the market for innovative wireless devices they enjoy. This was an incredibly thorough and careful investigation by the Commission, and the outcome is a strong and enforceable set of agreements.”

Jon Leibowitz, FTC Chairman


Coughing Up Money For Refunds

If you’ve ever wanted to lose weight or keep colds and the flu at bay, you might have tried Accelis, nanoSLIM, Cold MD, Germ MD, or Allergy MD products — and you might be eligible for a refund. Iovate Health Sciences U.S.A. and two affiliated companies have agreed to pay $5.5 million to settle FTC charges they deceptively advertised what their supplements could do. If you bought any of the products between January 2006 and July 2010, you have until April 1st to apply for a refund.


Look for EnergyGuide Labels Soon to Be Online

When you shop for most home appliances, a yellow EnergyGuide label on a product tells you how much energy it uses compared to similar models. When you shop for light bulbs, the Lighting Facts label on the package gives you key information to help you compare different bulbs. Now, thanks to updates to the FTC’s Energy Labeling Rule, you’ll find images of the labels online as well for products distributed after July 15, 2013. For more on why these labels are worth a look, go to



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  • Looking for a New Year’s resolution? Why not resolve to update your security software and protect your passwords:
  • Thinking about a new look for your home in the new year? Learn more about VOCs in paint:



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