• Posts by Phyllis H. Marcus
    Posts by Phyllis H. Marcus
    Partner

    A leader in the advertising bar with decades of experience both working at and practicing before the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Phyllis brings a unique advertising and children’s privacy vantage point to our clients ...

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The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) of BBB National Programs issued a new compliance warning aimed at addressing the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in advertisements and data collection efforts targeted at children. The warning emphasizes that CARU will “strictly enforce” its Advertising and Privacy Guidelines for advertisers, brands, influencers and manufacturers that utilize AI in marketing and data collection involving children. The warning specifically highlights CARU’s concerns about the risks of AI in connection with the susceptibility of children to marketing that fails to distinguish between what is real and what is not.

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The FTC has made its position on violations of “Made in USA” standards clear, and Williams-Sonoma received an expensive repeat reminder. On Thursday, April 25, the agency announced a settlement with the home goods retailer, directing it to pay an unprecedented civil penalty of $3.175 million for violating a 2020 FTC order requiring the company to clearly and accurately identify which products are, in fact, made in the USA. “Made in USA” denotations, as pointed out by the FTC, are more than formality: rather, to label something as “Made in USA,” the business must adhere to specific criteria – namely, that the product’s final assembly or processing, and all significant processing, takes place in the US, and that all or virtually all ingredients or components of the product are made and sourced in the US.

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In January 2023, the FTC announced a proposed rule that would ban employers from imposing noncompetes on employees. After collecting over 26,000 public comments during the 90-day notice and comment period, the FTC announced a special Open Commission Meeting set to take place on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 to discuss the implications of the proposed rule. While closed to public comment, the public is still able to view the meeting via webcast. 

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Earlier this year, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed S.B. S1048A into law (which we reported about here) requiring sellers that impose credit card surcharges to post the total price, inclusive of the surcharge, on the item. The law is aimed at preventing consumers from being misled when making a purchase using their credit card. Governor Hochul recently announced guidance to help businesses better implement the law’s requirements. The guidelines, which include an informational video as well as a one page brochure, provide three affirmative ways companies may comply with the ...

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On January 26, 2024, the FTC announced that it had entered into an agreement with tractor maker Kubota North America Corporation, settling allegations that Kubota falsely labeled some of its replacement parts as “Made in USA” despite manufacturing those parts entirely overseas. The FTC’s complaint was filed along with a consent order that requires Kubota to pay a $2 million civil penalty, the largest penalty ever assessed for violations of the FTC’s Made in USA Labeling Rule. The consent order also requires Kubota to comply with the FTC’s requirements for Made in USA claims.

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On December 13, 2023, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed Senate Bill S1048A into law requiring sellers that impose credit card surcharges to post the total price, inclusive of the surcharge. In addition, the surcharge to customers may not exceed the amount of the surcharge charged to the business by the credit card company for such credit card use. Per the legislative history, “This bill is necessary to prevent consumers from being misled when making a purchase using their credits cards.”

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The Federal Trade Commission has announced that it will hold an informal hearing on February 13, 2024 on the agency’s proposed rule banning fake reviews and testimonials. As we reported in July 2023, the FTC is proposing to ban business from using illicit review and endorsement practices such as using fake reviews, suppressing honest negative reviews and paying for positive reviews, which deceive consumers looking for real feedback on a product or service and undercut honest businesses.

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Last week, the FTC sent high profile warning letters to two trade associations, the American Beverage Association (AmeriBev) and the Canadian Sugar Institute, and 12 registered dieticians regarding inadequate disclosures in the dieticians’ social media posts. While the specific influencer posts varied across dietician, they all related to the safety of aspartame, an artificial sweetener, and other messaging regarding the benefits of consuming sugar-containing products. Further, some dieticians even went so far as to call the World Health Organization’s warnings regarding aspartame and artificial sweeteners as based on “low-quality science” and “clickbait” evidence. While some of the dieticians included words like “#Ad” or “Sponsored” in their posts, according to the FTC most failed to provide obvious disclosures informing consumers that they were watching an ad that had been paid for by an industry association. The FTC’s warnings alleged that inconspicuous messaging surrounding these partnership deals led to consumer confusion regarding who ultimately was responsible for the influencers’ nutrition messaging. And according to the FTC, the fact that these influencers are registered dieticians increases the public’s confidence in the information they disperse, thus heightening the need for them to be clear about their partnership affiliations.

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As we reported Friday, the FTC has proposed a rule to ban misleading and hidden fees. While that initiative is pending, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed similar legislation, SB 478, into law. Effective July 1, 2024, the California statute prohibits advertising, displaying, or offering a price for a good or service that does not include all mandatory fees or charges other than taxes or fees imposed by a government on the transaction, or postage or carriage charges that will be reasonably and actually incurred to ship the physical good to the consumer. The legislation takes aim at ...

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The FTC announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) targeting misleading and hidden fees, commonly known as “junk fees,” and how businesses may advertise and market prices to consumers. The NPRM was drafted based on over 12,000 public comments to the FTC’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published in November 2022.

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BBB National Programs’ Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) has released new Guardrails for Child-Directed Advertising and Privacy in the Metaverse. As explained in a BBB press release, the Guardrails are intended to provide companies with best practices as they navigate the complexities of engaging with children in metaverse experiences. The Guardrails offer “actionable recommendations” on developing metaverse experiences directed to children, complying with existing advertising and privacy law, and engaging responsibly with children online. These guidelines build on earlier CARU guidance regarding metaverse activities.

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The FTC announced an enforcement action against online shoe seller Hey Dude, Inc. (a subsidiary of Crocs, Inc.) alleging Hey Dude suppressed more than 80% of consumer reviews that provided less than four out of five stars. The complaint also alleges multiple violations of the FTC’s Mail Order Rule between 2020 and 2022. A proposed consent order would require Hey Dude to pay nearly $2 million and take certain steps to prevent future violations.

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The FTC recently announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) aimed at curbing deceptive consumer reviews and endorsements. The NPRM primarily aims to expand the Commission’s ability to seek civil penalties against businesses using false and misleading reviews online, which the FTC maintains can cause significant harm to consumers and competitors.

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The FTC took action last week against a group of New England-based clothing accessories companies for making false claims that certain of its products were “Made in USA.”

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Last week, the FTC announced its long-awaited finalization of updated Endorsement Guides. These guidelines come after the FTC initially voted to publish revised guidelines in May 2022. The new Guides were approved by a unanimous vote and make a significant number of updates to the 2009 version.

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On May 22, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced its first monetary settlement with celebrity endorsers for a combined $1.7 million.

The complaint filed by the FTC and the Utah Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) against Response Marketing Group, LLC and its principals, also named two real estate celebrities as defendants—Scott Yancey, star of the home-flipping show Flipping Vegas on A&E, and Dean R. Graziosi, author of Millionaire Success Habits. The complaint alleged that defendants used false promises to sell consumers expensive real estate investment training programs, which Yancey and Graziosi promoted. Yancey and Graziosi were also allegedly involved in efforts to bury online customer complaints that said Response Marketing was a scam and cost consumers more than $400 million.

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The FTC announced a settlement with Cycra, Inc., a manufacturer of motocross and ATV parts, and the company’s owner for falsely claiming their products were made in the USA while importing parts from Asia and Europe. The proposed consent order imposes an $872,577 judgment and requires the respondents to comply with the FTC’s requirements for marketing products as made or assembled in the United States.

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Nearly 700 companies (670 to be exact) are recipients of a letter from the Federal Trade Commission, putting the companies on formal notice that failing to have proper substantiation for health claims (the Substantiation Notice) or engaging in misleading use of testimonials or endorsements (the Endorsement Notice) could result in civil penalties.

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The New York Attorney General’s Office (OAG) recently announced several proposed rules are intended to combat price gouging in New York during state emergencies. The OAG promulgated the rules pursuant to its authority under New York General Business Law 396-r, which makes it unlawful to sell goods and services “vital and necessary for the health, safety and welfare of consumers or the general public” at an “unconscionably excessive price” during “any abnormal disruption of the market.” The statute defines an abnormal disruption of the market as “any change . . . resulting from stress of weather, convulsion of nature, failure or shortage of electric power or other source of energy, strike, civil disorder, war, military action, national or local emergency, or other cause . . . which results in the declaration of a state of emergency.” N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 396-r(2).  

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The FTC has announced the next step in its ongoing review of the “Green Guides.” According to the FTC’s most recent announcement, it is zeroing-in on “recyclable” claims and will be hosting a workshop titled “Talking Trash at the FTC: Recyclable Claims and the Green Guides.” During the workshop, panelists will discuss the kinds of recyclable claims that consumers see in the marketplace, how they perceive or interpret those claims, and the current state of recycling in the U.S.  The half-day workshop is scheduled for May 23, 2023 and is open to the public.

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The FTC unanimously approved a consent order this week requiring Credit Karma, LLC to pay $3 million dollars for allegedly advertising to consumers that they were “pre-approved” for credit card offers, when in reality, the customers were not pre-approved, and in fact, were frequently rejected.

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The FTC has announced that it is extending by 60 days (from February 21 to April 24, 2023) the public comment period on potential updates to the agency’s “Green Guides.” As we previously reported, since mid-December 2022, the FTC has been gathering input on various aspects of the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims. According to the FTC’s announcement, several interested parties asked the agency for additional time to provide their feedback, citing a desire to conduct consumer survey research and to account for issues such as the extensive range of issues ...

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The FTC announced an enforcement action against Instant Brands LLC, manufacturer of Pyrex-brand products, for allegedly marketing certain glass measuring cups as “Made in USA” and “American as Apple Pie” while importing those products from China. A proposed consent order would require Instant Brands to pay a monetary judgment of $129,416 and comply with the agency’s requirements for marketing a product as made or assembled in the United States.

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The FTC has just announced a release of updated “Health Products Compliance Guidance” to help advertisers ensure that claims about the benefits and safety of health-related products are truthful, not misleading, and supported by science.

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As we recently reported, the FTC voted to issue a notice in the Federal Register seeking input on updating its Green Guides. The FTC’s notice seeks input on a number of areas addressed by the current Guides, which last were updated in 2012.

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The FTC announced that it will hold an open meeting on December 14 during which the agency will vote to publish a Federal Register notice commencing a regulatory review of the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (“Green Guides”). The commonly followed Guides, which were last updated in 2012, set forth: (1) general principles that apply to all environmental marketing claims; (2) how consumers are likely to interpret particular claims and how marketers can substantiate these claims; and (3) how marketers can qualify their claims to avoid deceiving consumers.

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The FTC and Attorneys General from seven states announced settlements with Google and iHeartMedia for disseminating thousands of allegedly deceptive endorsements, with the two companies being required to pay $9.4 million in state-levied penalties.

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The Federal Trade Commission published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) on October 20 seeking public comment on a potential regulation aimed at curbing deceptive consumer reviews and endorsements. In its announcement, the FTC highlighted the prevalence of false and misleading reviews online and the harms they cause consumers and competitors.

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The SEC instituted settlement proceedings against Kim Kardashian on Monday, alleging that the reality television star and entrepreneur violated the SEC’s anti-touting statute when she failed to disclose compensation that she received in exchange for an Instagram post endorsing cryptocurrency tokens.  The promotion, which Kardashian posted to her Instagram account on June 13, 2021, encouraged her 225 million followers to visit a website operated by EthereumMax, an online company that offers and sells digital “Emax tokens.” Kardashian’s Instagram post included an “#AD” hashtag, but failed to disclose that she received $250,000 from EthereumMax in exchange for the promotion.

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The FTC unanimously agreed to an enforcement action against American textile manufacturer Electrowarmth Products, LLC and the company’s owner for deceptively marketing its heated “bunk warmer” mattress pads products as Made in the USA. According to the FTC’s complaint, Electrowarmth’s products, while marked as being domestically made, were wholly manufactured and packaged in China, thus violating the Textile Act and the FTC’s Textile Rule. While the proposed settlement agreement contains an $815,000 monetary judgment, payment of the redress amount is suspended upon the defendants’ inability to pay.

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The Federal Trade Commission and six states have filed suit against Roomster Corp. and two corporate executives, accusing the residential rental listing platform of using fake reviews and unverified listings to generate tens of millions of dollars in business. According to the complaint, these practices often occur at the expense of vulnerable customers who rely on Roomster to find safe low-cost housing within expensive housing markets.

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CARU, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit of BBB National programs, issued a compliance warning last week reminding industry that the self-regulating body on children’s advertising and privacy intends to enforce its advertising guidelines in the metaverse, just like in the real world.

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The Children’s Advertising Review Unit of BBB National Programs (CARU) has issued two recommendations this summer addressing negative social stereotypes in children’s advertising. The first decision involves fashion retailer Primark and the second decision, involved Moose Toys.

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The FTC, through the Department of Justice, has entered a settlement with two companies and the joint corporate President for falsely claiming that the LED lighting products and personal protective equipment (PPE) they sold were “Assembled in the USA,” “Buy American Act Compliant,” “Manufactured in the USA” and “100% Made in the USA,” despite having been imported from China. According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants, Axis LED Group, LLC, ALG-Health LLC and Adam J. Harmon, went so far as to peel “Made in China” stickers off the products and replace them with Made in USA labels. The FTC had previously investigated and warned the companies, and received assurances that they would remove unqualified Made in USA claims from their marketing materials. The defendants subsequently were investigated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) over safety superiority claims for their KN95 masks.

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The FTC has announced that it is taking a fresh look at its guidance for online disclosures, in part because, according to its Consumer Protection Director, “some companies are wrongly citing the guides to justify practices that mislead consumers online.”

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The FTC voted today to issue revised proposed Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, aka, the “Endorsement Guides.” In a 5-0 vote, including a yes vote from the FTC’s newest Commissioner, Alvaro Bedoya, the FTC agreed to publish their proposal in the Federal Register and will take comment on the updates from the public. In addition, the FTC announced that it will hold a virtual event on October 19, 2022, in which it will consider the special challenges presented by advertising to children, especially children under 12 years of age.

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The FTC continues its pursuit of deceptive Made in USA claims, this time with allegations that company Lions Not Sheep and its owner, Sean Whalen, marketed apparel as being “Made in USA,” “Made in America,” “100% AMERICAN MADE,” and “BEST DAMN AMERICAN MADE GEAR ON THE PLANET” when in fact the products were made in China. According to the FTC, Whalen appeared in social media posts claiming he could conceal the fact that his politically-themed hats, t-shirts, sweatshirts, and other apparel were of Chinese origin by removing the labels and replacing them with express markings that they were “Made in USA.”

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The FTC entered into a consent order with Lithionics Battery LLC and its General Manager, settling allegations the company misrepresented its lithium ion cells are made in the United States. This is the first case the FTC has brought under its new civil penalty authority provided in the Made in USA Labeling Rule, which we wrote about last summer.

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Several retailers recently settled cases with the FTC over allegations they deceptively marketed “bamboo” textiles. These cases come as some of the first, if not the first, instances of the FTC using its revived civil penalty authority to punish initial offenses by retailers.

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The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) has recommended that Moose Toys, an Australian toy company, modify ads and packaging of its “Little Live Pets Gotta Go Turdle” toy to disclose that kids should not eat the synthetic “Turdle food” that comes with the toy. CARU also recommended that future promotions of the toy depict adult supervision.

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In a rare “some assembly required” and “parts not included” decision, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), a division of BBB National Programs, scrutinized advertising for Micro Machine toys. CARU determined that Jazwares LLC’s advertising for the toys misled children about what was included in the purchase of the products, what must be purchased separately, and the ease of assembly. CARU also found the ads unrealistically depicted how the toys can perform.

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In the first FTC case to challenge a company’s failure to post negative reviews, the FTC has reached a proposed settlement agreement with the online fashion retailer, Fashion Nova, LLC, prohibiting the retailer from suppressing negative reviews and requiring the company to pay $4.2 million for harm suffered by consumers.

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California’s tough plastic-labeling enforcement is about to get a little stricter.

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The National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs recently examined advertising claims by Straight Smile, LLC (Byte), seller of direct-to-consumer teeth aligners, recommending that Byte provide clear disclosures when reviewers of its product receive incentives in exchange for posting reviews.

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Following the recent trend of retailers abandoning gendered store sections and product lines, California has passed legislation that will force certain large retailers to adopt non-gendered children’s sections in California store locations.

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Today, the FTC announced it had sent “Notices of Penalty Offense” to over 700 businesses, including top consumer products companies, large retailers, tech platforms, media and gaming companies, and ad agencies, warning them against engaging in deceptive and unfair practices when it comes to using endorsements and testimonials in ads.

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The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (“CARU”), a part of BBB National Programs (“BBBNP”), released its revised Children’s Advertising Guidelines earlier this month. These new Guidelines will go into effect in January 2022 and contain some notable changes.

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In response to a challenge by animal rights organization Animal Outlook, the NAD has determined  that Butterball, LLC should discontinue several ad claims and slogans for its “all natural” turkeys.

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On July 21, 2021, during an open Commission meeting, the Federal Trade Commission (Commission) voted to retain its longstanding Care Labeling Rule. This decision came after the Commission previously sought comment (in July 2020) on a proposal to repeal. The Rule, which has been in effect since 1971, requires manufacturers and importers to affix labels to certain garments and other goods providing care instructions, including dry cleaning or washing, bleaching, drying and ironing.

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At the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) July 1 meeting, it finalized a new “Made in USA” Rule that was almost two decades in the making. The FTC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in June 2020 and received 700 comments from stakeholders. During that time, the FTC has aggressively policed Made in USA claims (through an enforcement policy statement), settling a historic, million dollar follow-on Made in USA enforcement action and obtaining a six-figure settlement with an online retailer.

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This week, the FTC voted 3–1 to accept a settlement agreement with MoviePass, Inc., its parent company, and two of the now-defunct company’s former employees, after allegations of data security issues and deceptive trade practices. The Commission brought an enforcement action against MoviePass pursuant to the FTC Act and the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (“ROSCA”), the latter of which requires disclosure of all material terms, a consumer’s informed consent, and a simple mechanism to stop recurring charges when marketing negative option services.

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In 1973, Congress amended the FTC Act by adding §13(b), giving the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) equitable powers to remediate any violation of any law under its purview.  Using that power, the FTC has sought equitable monetary relief, including restitution and disgorgement. The lower courts routinely authorized such relief and Congress seemingly acknowledged the FTC’s power when it reauthorized the FTC Act. Despite those headwinds, today the Supreme Court unanimously held in a highly-anticipated case, AMG Capital Management, LLC v. FTC, that the FTC cannot seek or obtain equitable monetary relief pursuant to §13(b).

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Gennex Media LLC, a customizable product online marketplace, and its sole officer and shareholder Akil Kurji, have agreed to an FTC consent decree resolving allegations the company falsely claimed its Brandnex novelty products were “Made in USA,” “USA MADE,” and “Manufactured Right Here in America!” when, in many instances, they were wholly imported from China. Gennex heavily promoted its products’ domestic origin on social media, declaring they “support USA jobs.” In a unanimous decision, Gennex and its principal were ordered to pay $146,249.24 and were required to cease making claims that its customizable promotional products, including wristbands, lanyards, temporary tattoos, and buttons, are made in America.

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Last week marked a double milestone for the FTC: Rebecca Slaughter assumed the role of Acting Chair, and the agency brought its first enforcement action under the Better Online Ticket Sales Act (“BOTS Act”), 15 U.S.C. § 45c(a)(1).

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The FTC settled charges with mobile advertising company Tapjoy, Inc., on allegations that the company failed to provide promised rewards in exchange for completed activities such as the payment of money, disclosure of sometimes-sensitive personal information, or registration for “free trial” marketing offers. The FTC’s agreement, approved unanimously by the agency’s 5 Commissioners, requires Tapjoy to more conspicuously state the terms of their offers, more closely monitor consumer complaints, and more diligently track advertising partners who deliver (and fail to deliver) promised rewards.

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The FTC approved amendments to its Energy Labeling Rule, adding portable air conditioners to the class of appliances requiring yellow EnergyGuide labels effective October 1, 2022, and updating energy efficiency descriptors for central air conditioning units. The vote to approve the Rule was 4-1, with a concurring statement from Commissioner Chopra and a dissent from Commissioner Wilson. These two statements reflect deeply divergent views of the FTC’s role that everyone—not only air conditioner manufacturers—should keep in mind.

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The FTC has obtained a $1.2 million settlement in a follow-on action against glue manufacturer Chemence, the largest judgment for a Made in USA the agency has ever imposed. According to the FTC, Chemence violated a 2016 order involving deceptively labeled “Proudly Made in USA” glue products whose inputs were imported. Chemence subsequently provide trade materials claiming its private label glue products were all or virtually all Made in USA when significant proportions of the chemical inputs and overall costs to manufacture the products were attributable to foreign materials. The FTC’s new order prohibits unqualified “Made in USA” claims on Chemence products and requires qualified “Made in USA” claims to conspicuously disclose the origin of the parts and processing of the product. Under the terms of the agreement, Chemence is also required to notify customers and provide compliance reports to the FTC.

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On Friday, November 6, 2020, the FTC finalized its settlement with Sunday Riley Skincare, a cult-favorite skincare brand known for its high-end products. The action comes after the agency’s initial announcement in October 2019 that employees of the brand, under direction of CEO, Sunday Riley, posted thousands of fake reviews of the brand’s products online over the course of almost two years.

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On October 1, 2020, New York state implemented a ban on businesses charging a “pink tax” for their products or services. The new law prohibits any individual or entity, including retailers, suppliers, manufacturers or distributors, from charging a different price for two “substantially similar” goods or services based on the gender for whom the goods or services are marketed.

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In April 2020, the National Advertising Division (NAD) rolled out a Fast-Track SWIFT option (“Single Well-defined Issue Fast Track”) for certain cases under review. The new SWIFT track expedites the process for single-issue disputes that do not require complex evidence or argument and meet certain parameters. On June 10, the NAD published its first trio of SWIFT decisions that illustrate what participants can expect from the new process.

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The National Advertising Division (NAD) has recommended that Factor Nutrition Labs, LLC, discontinue its claim that its Focus Factor brain health supplement is “America’s #1 Clinically Studied and Patented Brain Health Formula.” NAD’s decision follows a challenge by Quincy BioScience, Inc. (Quincy), the maker of Prevagen brain health dietary supplement.

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Responding to a challenge from Align Technology, Inc. (Align), maker of Invisalign, the National Advertising Division (NAD) recommended that SmileDirectClub (SDC) modify certain of its comparative advertising claims, while finding that others were sufficiently substantiated.

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On April 21, the FTC announced a record-setting $9.3 million settlement with online retailer Fashion Nova for violating the decades-old Mail Order Rule by failing to meet advertised shipping times and failing to adequately compensate consumers affected by the delays.

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Listen as Phyllis H. Marcus, partner at Hunton Andrews Kurth and Co-Chair of the ABA Antitrust Law Section’s Privacy and Information Security Committee, speaks about the privacy concerns over using smart devices on the ABA’s Our Curious Amalgam podcast, Is Your Assistant Spying on You? Understanding the Privacy Law Issues Involving In-Home Assistants.

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Williams-Sonoma, Inc., has agreed to pay $1 million to the FTC in settlement of claims that the home furnishing company made false and unsubstantiated representations that certain products were made in the United States. In its complaint, the FTC alleged that Williams-Sonoma—also doing business as Pottery Barn, West Elm, Rejuvenation, Outward, Mark & Graham and other brands—deceptively claimed that the company’s Goldtouch Bakeware products, Rejuvenation-branded products and Pottery Barn Teen- and Pottery Barn Kids-branded upholstered furniture were made in the USA. In reality, many of these products were wholly imported or contained significant imported materials.

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On March 6, 2020, the FTC announced a settlement with Teami, LLC and its owners over allegations that the company falsely promoted its Teami brand tea products as capable of curing serious health conditions and causing significant weight loss, supported by endorsements by well-known social media influencers who did not adequately disclose that they were being paid to promote their products. According to the FTC, after receiving a warning letter from the FTC in 2018, Teami implemented a social media policy requiring informative hashtags, but failed to enforce it, resulting in ...

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On February 12, 2020, the FTC announced its intention to review its Endorsement Guides (formally known as the “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”). These guides, first enacted in 1980 and revised in 2009, provide guidance to businesses, influencers and endorsers on how to make sure endorsements or testimonials abide by the requirements of the FTC Act. While advisory in nature, the Commission can take action under the FTC Act if an endorsement or testimonial is inconsistent with the Guides.

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On February 5, 2020, the FTC announced two settlements totaling nearly $3.4 million against Quantum Wellness Botanical Institute, LLC and their principals for claims made to older adults that the “ReJuvenation” pill was an “anti-aging wonder drug.” For example, they represented that the pill could boost HGH levels and add stem cells to the body, thereby repairing age, cell, and heart attack damage; reversing deafness or blindness; and reversing damage from any disease, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Crohn’s disease. The FTC’s complaint alleged ...
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On February 3, 2020, the FTC announced a $350,000 settlement with Shop Tutors Inc., d/b/a LendEDU, a website that ranks and rates consumer financial products such as student and personal loans. The FTC’s complaint alleged that LendEDU and its principals violated the FTC Act by misleading consumers into believing that their website offered consumers “objective,” “accurate” and “unbiased” information, despite the fact that the company was alleged to be selling rankings and ratings to the highest bidder. The FTC also alleged that LendEDU touted unbiased positive reviews of its website, when the vast majority of those reviews had been written by persons closely associated with the company or were altogether fabricated.

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Responding to a challenge brought by HelloFresh (Grocery Delivery E-Services, USA), the National Advertising Division (NAD) affirmed that Home Chef (Relish Labs, LLC) offered reasonable grounds on which to base its claims that its meal kit delivery service offers consumers more flexibility than HelloFresh’s similar service. In particular, NAD noted that Home Chef’s “Customize It” feature provides ample variety, permitting consumers to upgrade or increase the amount of protein in their weekly meal selections, or even change recipes entirely by switching out the ...
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On January 7, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement with Mortgage Solutions FCS, Inc., d/b/a Mount Diablo Lending, and its sole principal, Ramon Walker, to resolve allegations that the lender violated the FTC Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley (GLB) Act, by improperly disseminating consumers’ personal information on Yelp in response to consumers’ negative reviews posted to that site. In its complaint, the FTC alleges that Walker posted on Yelp responses that included customers’ nonpublic and personal financial ...
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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a consumer-fraud class action lawsuit against Diet Dr Pepper maker Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc., holding that use of the word “diet” in the product’s name was not false or deceptive advertising in the proper context of the soft drink market. The court found that, despite allegations that the product was long promoted with advertising featuring thin models, the common consumer would not read the “diet” in a soda’s brand name to promise the weight loss or other health benefits commonly associated with the word. Rather, given the ...
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On December 5, 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a $4.1 million settlement against A.S. Research, LLC (ASR), the marketer of the dietary supplement Synovia. The Commission alleged that ASR misled consumers by purporting Synovia could dramatically reduce or cure chronic joint pain, stiffness and swelling caused by arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow and muscular atrophy.

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Citing its potentially outdated 1997 Enforcement Policy Statement on US Origin Claims, the Federal Trade Commission has announced that it will hold a half-day workshop in its DC offices on Made in USA advertising on September 26, 2019. Among other things, the agency is seeking input on how consumers interpret Made in USA claims, what the costs and benefits are of the FTC’s “all or virtually all” standard for unqualified claims, whether its current requirement that 85 percent of costs must be attributable to the United States to make an unqualified claim and whether firms that ...
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As reported on the Blockchain Legal Resource Blog on August 27, 2019, The Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement with the promoters of chain-based cryptocurrency schemes—Thomas Dluca, Louis Gatto, Eric Pinkston and Scott Chandler—in which the defendants promised recruits big rewards in exchange for a small payment of bitcoin or Litecoin.

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The Federal Trade Commission has stepped up enforcement of the Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016 (CRFA) which prohibits companies from barring honest consumer reviews of their products and services. While enforcement of the CRFA was initially slow, that changed this year.

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The National Advertising Division (NAD) affirmed that Reckitt Benckiser, Inc.’s claim of “#1 Carpet Cleaning Brand” for its Resolve Carpet Cleaner product line is supported by the appropriate underlying unit sales data. Responding to a challenge brought by BISSELL Homecare, Inc., NAD noted that Reckitt Benckiser’s “#1 Brand” claim is properly understood to mean that the brand itself, rather than any specific product, holds the highest market share in its relevant category. To that, Nielsen tracking data for units of products sold to consumers in the “carpet cleaning brand” category supports Reckitt Benckiser’s “#1 Brand” sales superiority claim for the Resolve products. Still, NAD noted that Reckitt Benckiser fails to properly identify the time period and scope for the relevant data in its disclaimer. Reckitt Benckiser has agreed to comply with NAD’s recommendation of a modified disclaimer in the future use of its “#1 Brand” claim.

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The FTC and the FDA jointly sent warning letters to four manufacturers of flavored e-liquid products, citing the absence of particular disclosures in paid social media endorsements as potentially in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the FTC Act.

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The Federal Trade Commission entered proposed final orders settling June 2018 charges filed against several online marketers of e-cigarettes, dietary supplements and skin creams for deceptively advertising “risk free” trial offers.

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In continued enforcement of the Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA), the Federal Trade Commission entered consent decrees against two rental management companies that mandated non-disparaging reviews in their consumer contracts.

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The National Advertising Division (“NAD”) has recommended that Goya Foods, Inc. toss claims that its Excelsior brand pasta is “Puerto Rico’s Favorite Pasta,” following a challenge by Goya’s competitor, Riviana Foods, Inc. Riviana, the maker of Ronzoni pasta, argued that Goya had not substantiated its “favorite” claim through consumer survey or sales data. Goya responded that its claim was classic puffery. NAD disagreed with Goya, finding that “favorite” is objectively measureable and means a product is preferred over all others. NAD ...
Time 1 Minute Read
The FTC teamed up with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, sending warning letters to three companies: NutraPure, LLC, PotNetwork Holdings, Inc., and Advanced Spine and Pain LLC (d/b/a Relievus) that advertised CBD supplements as treatments for serious diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, fibromyalgia and “neuropsychiatric disorders.” The two agencies told the companies to steer clear of false or unsubstantiated health claims and instructed the companies to notify the FTC within 15 days of the specific action taken to address the agencies’ concerns ...
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The FTC recently sent warning letters to eight marketers of lab-created diamonds concerning implied claims on social media that their diamonds are mined (rather than simulated) and that their jewelry is “eco-friendly” or “sustainable.” The FTC’s Jewelry Guides contain specific requirements for disclosing lab-created properties and avoiding misperceptions that gems are natural. Moreover, the FTC’s Green Guides require that marketers have a reasonable basis for all express and implied environmental benefits claims ...
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In a case signaling that the FTC intends to continue its crackdown on review manipulation, snack company UrthBox, Inc. has reached a settlement with the FTC after allegedly misrepresenting that its customer reviews were independent, despite the fact that reviewers had been incentivized with free products and other goodies. According to the FTC, UrthBox also failed to adequately disclose to consumers key terms of its “free trial” automatic renewal programs. The settlement requires UrthBox to take all reasonable steps to remove any reviews or endorsements with which it has a ...
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The FTC has announced that it will host a workshop on July 16, 2019, called Nixing the Fix: A Workshop on Repair Restrictions, aimed at examining manufacturer restrictions on consumer and third-party product repairs and the extent to which such restrictions implicate consumer protection. The announcement lists covered topics, including the interplay between repair restrictions and consumer protection laws like those in the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act; the impact of repair restrictions on extended warranties and service agreements; the types of repair reductions in the United States and extent to which these restrictions are used; and consumers’ understanding about the existence and effects of repair restrictions, among other subjects.

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On February 25, the National Advertising Division (“NAD”) referred Nectar Sleep’s “Limited Offer: $125 Off + 2 Free Pillows” claim to the FTC after the advertiser declined to participate in the NAD’s self-regulatory process. The complaint was brought to the NAD’s attention by challenger Tuft & Needle, LLC, who alleged that Nectar’s offer was always available to consumers, and therefore was not a “limited” offer. The challenger also complained that Nectar’s pillows are not independently offered for sale and therefore should not be advertised as ...
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On February 26, the FTC announced a settlement with a weight-loss pill company that is alleged to have purchased 5-star Amazon reviews from a third party. The settlement includes a judgment of  $12.8 million (which will be suspended upon payment of $50,000 to the FTC and payment of outstanding taxes), and ongoing compliance requirements for 10 years. Notably, the settlement also requires the company to have competent and reliable scientific evidence substantiating any appetite suppressant, weight loss, “blocks fat,” or disease-treatment claims in the form of human clinical ...
Time 1 Minute Read

In a challenge brought by Aquasana, Inc., the NAD determined that Advanced Purification Engineering Corp. (APEC), a manufacturer of water filtration systems, was not responsible for substantiating or correcting “Made in USA” claims made in customer reviews posted on third-party sites.

Time 1 Minute Read

On January 30, 2019, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a unanimous 11-judge opinion striking down San Francisco’s ordinance mandating health warnings on ads for sugary drinks. The judicial panel found that San Francisco’s proposed law violated beverage companies’ First Amendment rights to free speech.

Time 2 Minute Read

The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (“NAD”) has settled competing challenges between Kraft Heinz, the maker of Heinz Real Mayonnaise, and Unilever, the maker of Hellmann’s REAL Ketchup.

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In a recent unpublished ruling, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a putative class action lawsuit alleging that Blue Diamond Growers mislabeled its almond beverages by failing to identify products as “imitation milk.” Painter v. Blue Diamond Growers, No. 17-55901 (9th Cir. Dec. 20, 2018).

Time 2 Minute Read

MillerCoors launched a “Know Your Beer” campaign that included digital vignettes featuring beer customers who were asked to taste two unnamed beers (Miller Light vs. Bud Light), determine which beer had “more taste,” and select their choice. When the identities of the two beers were revealed, the vast majority of participating consumers expressed surprise at having chosen Miller Lite over Bud Light.

Time 1 Minute Read

The FTC has proposed amendments to its Energy Labeling Rule. The Rule requires manufacturers to attach yellow EnergyGuide labels providing estimated annual energy cost, energy consumption, and a comparability range to covered products, and prohibits retailers from removing these labels or rendering them illegible. The Rule also requires sellers, including retailers, to post label information on websites and in paper catalogs from which consumers can order products.

Time 2 Minute Read

A public relations company and a publisher have been caught in the FTC’s net after using influencer marketing to help promote an anti-Zika mosquito repellant during the 2016 Brazil Summer Olympics.

Time 3 Minute Read

This past week, several consumer actions made headlines that affect the retail industry.

Time 5 Minute Read

This past week, several consumer actions made headlines that affect the retail industry.

Federal Court in Florida Grants FTC a Win in Gastric Bypass Alternative Case

A U.S. district court in Florida has ruled in favor of the FTC in its longstanding litigation against Roca Labs, Inc., a seller of weight-loss powders advertised as an alternative to gastric bypass surgery. The court found that Roca Labs had made deceptive weight-loss claims and misrepresented that one of its promotional websites was an objective information site. The court also found that Roca Labs’ gag clause, which the company used to sue and threaten to sue customers who shared negative comments or complained about their dissatisfaction with the product, was unfair under the FTC Act. After additional briefing, the court will decide how much of the defendants’ $26.6 million in gross sales should be awarded in consumer redress.

Time 5 Minute Read

This past week, several consumer actions made headlines that affect the retail industry.

“Black Truffle Flavored Extra Virgin Olive Oil” Case Dismissed Against Trader Joe’s

On August 30, 2018, the Southern District of New York dismissed class action claims for consumers who purchased Trader Joe’s “Black Truffle Flavored Extra Virgin Olive Oil.” The complaint alleged that the product label contained the words “black truffle” in large black letters, with the words “flavored” and “extra virgin olive oil” in smaller cursive letters underneath. However, DNA testing revealed that the oil did not contain actual truffle, but rather 2,4-dithiapentane, a petroleum-based synthetic injection that imitates the taste and smell of truffles.

Time 5 Minute Read

This past week, several consumer actions made headlines that affect the retail industry.

FTC Used Car Lot Sweep Finds 70 Percent Compliance with New “Buyers Guide”

Last month, the FTC announced the results of its compliance sweep of 94 car dealerships in 20 cities across the country, conducted after the FTC’s amended Used Car Rule (the “Rule”) took effect earlier this year. The revised Rule requires dealers to display a revised “Buyers Guide” containing warranty and other important information—such as a new description of an “As Is” sale—on the window of each used car offered for sale. According to the FTC, 70 percent of the 2,300 vehicles inspected displayed a buyer’s guide; over half of those with the guide displayed the updated version. As a follow-up, the FTC sent letters to each dealership inspected, detailing their findings and providing businesses with guidance material to help aid in compliance.

Time 5 Minute Read

This past week, several consumer actions made headlines that affect the retail industry.

District Judge Boots Putative Class Action Against L.L. Bean

A federal district judge has dismissed an attempted class action against L.L. Bean involving the company’s long-standing no-questions-asked warranty policy. In February 2018, L.L. Bean announced that it was changing its policy to limit customers’ return period to one year, while committing to “work with our customers to reach a fair solution” if a problem arises more than a year after purchase. The plaintiff alleged that changing the warranty violated both the Magnusson-Moss Act and Illinois state law as an anticipatory repudiation of the guarantee. But the District Judge ruled that plaintiff neither alleged an injury nor had he stated a claim for which relief could be granted.

Time 3 Minute Read

These past two weeks, several consumer actions made headlines that affect the retail industry.

FTC: Come One, Come All to Discussion of 21st Century Impacts

On June 20, 2018, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it will hold public hearings on competition and consumer protection in the 21st Century. The FTC is looking to assess whether competition and consumer protection laws must change due to recent economic changes, evolving business practices, technological advancements and international developments. According to the FTC, the hearings may identify areas for enforcement and policy guidance, including improvements to the FTC’s investigation and law enforcement processes, as well as areas that warrant additional study. The FTC is soliciting public comments until August 20, 2018, on a variety of related topics; the hearings are set to take place from September 2018 to January 2019.

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