FTC International Monthly - May

FTC International Monthly: U.S. Competition, Consumer Protection and Privacy News

MAY 2021

Consumer Protection and Privacy

OECD Committee on Consumer Policy To Hold International Conference on Consumer Marketplace

of the Future

OECD conference

Acting FTC Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter will be a keynote speaker at the OECD virtual international conference on “The Consumer Marketplace of the Future,” to be held June 15-17.  The OECD Committee on Consumer Policy (CCP) works with OECD member governments, observers, civil society, and business representatives to develop a broad range of consumer policies.  The conference will address ongoing digital transformation, increasing globalization, and a growing need for sustainable consumption.  It will feature a series of moderated panel discussions on the rise of mobile and hyper-connected consumers, the role of online marketplaces in protecting consumers, developments in consumer product safety, consumers in the green economy, effective disclosures and dark commercial patterns online, improving the evidence base for consumer policy, and advances in cross-border enforcement cooperation.  Registration for the conference is open now.

Smart Home Monitoring Company Ordered To Pay $20 Million To Settle FTC Charges That It Misused Consumer Credit Reports

Smart home security and monitoring company, Vivint Smart Homes Inc. has agreed to pay $20 million to settle FTC allegations that it misused credit reports to help unqualified customers with the same or similar names obtain financing for the company’s products and services, a practice known as “white paging,” and added “co-signers” without permission, misusing their credit histories.  Under the settlement, Vivint will pay a $15 million civil penalty and an additional $5 million to compensate injured consumers, the largest settlement in an FTC Fair Credit Reporting Act case.

FTC Staff Report Highlights Agency’s Ongoing Efforts To Protect Consumers a Year into COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID report

The FTC staff issued a report highlighting the agency’s ongoing efforts to protect consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The report notes that the agency developed a public dashboard to track and alert the public to shifts in COVID-related reports from consumers, identify and respond to emerging threats, and identify law enforcement targets.  Staff highlights the agency’s work in addressing deceptive claims through law enforcement actions and warning letters, designed to get deceptive claims removed quickly.  The report also highlights the FTC’s efforts through consumer and business education, noting the agency has sent out alerts informing consumers about COVID-19 scams, reminding businesses about their responsibilities regarding honest advertising, and alerting companies about scams targeting them.

FTC Report to Congress Examines Anti-Competitive Repair Restrictions, Recommends Ways To Expand Consumers’ Repair Options

Nixing the Fix report

In a report to Congress, the FTC identifies numerous types of repair restrictions, such as using adhesives that make parts difficult to replace, limiting the availability of spare parts, and making diagnostic software unavailable.  The report’s findings, including that “there is scant evidence to support manufacturers’ justifications for repair restrictions,” are primarily based on responses to the Commission’s requests for public comments and empirical research issued in connection with its July 2019 workshop, “Nixing the Fix: A Workshop on Repair Restrictions.”  The report, issued at the direction of Congress, explores means of expanding consumers’ repair options and how the Commission could assist in that expansion, consistent with its statutory authority.  In addition, the Commission notes that it stands ready to work with lawmakers at the state or federal level to ensure that consumers have choices when they need to repair products that they purchase and own.



FTC Requires Divestiture To Preserve Competition in Local Fuel Markets in Two States

Casey’s General Stores, Inc., agreed to divest retail fuel assets in local gasoline and diesel fuel markets across Nebraska and Iowa to settle FTC charges that Casey’s proposed acquisition would violate federal antitrust law.  According to the complaint, markets for retail gasoline and retail diesel fuel are highly local, and no economic or practical alternative to the retail sale of gasoline or diesel fuel exists.  Without a remedy, the acquisition would have reduced the number of competitors to three or fewer in seven local markets in these two states.

In Other News

FTC Acting Chairwoman Responds to U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Eliminating FTC Authority To Recover Money for Consumers; Commission Asks Congress To Pass Legislation Reviving Authority

In response to a Supreme Court ruling eliminating the FTC’s authority under FTC Act section 13(b) to recover money for harmed consumers, the Commission asked Congress to pass recently introduced legislation that would restore that authority.  In a statement, Acting Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter said, “With this ruling, the Court has deprived the FTC of the strongest tool we had to help consumers when they need it most.  We urge Congress to act swiftly to restore and strengthen the powers of the agency so we can make wronged consumers whole.”  Over the past four decades, the Commission has relied on Section 13(b) to secure billions of dollars in relief for consumers in a wide variety of cases, including telemarketing fraud, anticompetitive pharmaceutical practices, data security and privacy, scams that target seniors and veterans, and deceptive business practices, among many others.

Multilateral Pharmaceutical Merger Task Force Seeks Public Input

The recently formed Multilateral Pharmaceutical Merger Task Force has issued a notice seeking public comment on how best to update their approaches to analyzing the effects of pharmaceutical mergers.  The task force comprises staff from the FTC, the Canadian Competition Bureau, the European Commission Directorate General for Competition, the U.K. Competition and Markets Authority, the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division, and Offices of State Attorneys General. 

Marta E. Wosińska Appointed as Director of Bureau of Economics

FTC Acting Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter has appointed Marta E. Wosińska as Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Economics.  Dr. Wosińska joins the agency from the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke University, where she is a Consulting Professor and Deputy Director for Policy.  Previously, she was Chief Healthcare Economist in the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General after serving as the Director for Economics Staff at the Food and Drug Administration Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.  Wosińska has been an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Harvard Business School and Visiting Assistant Professor at the Columbia Business School.

ACCC Adding Additional Complaints to Consumer Sentinel Network

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) is adding an additional source of reporting to their data contributions to the Consumer Sentinel Network, sharing information from their cross-border complaints reported to their Scamwatch complaint portal from consumers in Australia.  Certified econsumer.gov members now have access to more than 347,000 combined econsumer.gov and cross-border complaints around the world, including cross-border complaints from data contributors such as the ACCC.  Contact Hui Ling Goh at hgoh@ftc.gov for more information on how your agency can participate in econsumer.gov and access econsumer.gov and cross-border complaints.