Posts in Advertising & Marketing.
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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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In recent years, consumers filed a spate of class actions claiming that retailers misrepresented the retail price on discounted goods to mislead consumers into thinking they were obtaining a bargain. Many of those cases settled or were dismissed for lack of injury because plaintiffs failed to allege that the purchased item was deficient in an objectively identifiable way.

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Our 2023 Retail Industry Year in Review provides a comprehensive overview of recent developments, issues, and trends impacting retailers, as well as a look ahead at what to expect in 2024. We hope you will take a few minutes to review our new publication released last week.

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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 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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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the dismissal of a putative class action lawsuit brought by a consumer who claimed that The Kroger Company supermarkets falsely advertised its spreadable fruit product containing fruit-based sweeteners as “Just Fruit.” 

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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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On March 16, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission announced it issued orders to eight social media and video streaming platforms seeking Special Reports on how the platforms review and monitor commercial advertising to detect, prevent and reduce deceptive advertisements, including those related to fraudulent healthcare products, financial scams and the sale of fake goods. The FTC sent the orders pursuant to its resolution directing the FTC to use all available compulsory process to inquire into this topic, and using the FTC’s Section 6(b) authority, which authorizes the FTC to conduct studies that do not have a specific law enforcement purpose.

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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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On August 23, 2022, the Federal Trade Commission announced it is seeking additional public comment on “how children are affected by digital advertising and marketing messages that may blur the line between ads and entertainment” in conjunction with its “Protecting Kids from Stealth Advertising in Digital Media” event on October 19, 2022. The event will focus on manipulative marketing practices targeted towards children, particularly those related to influencer marketing and online games.

The public can comment on this topic and related issues until November ...

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On August 24, 2022, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the Office of the Attorney General’s (“OAG’s”) first settlement of a California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”) enforcement action, against Sephora, Inc.

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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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Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are creating new economic opportunities in old, familiar spaces. To capitalize on the current popularity of NFTs, some retailers are turning to the timeless art of nostalgia: reworking old media or products into an NFT collection to advertise a brand in an online space or bring new attention (and customers) to a vintage product.

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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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Retailers, beware! The new wave in the fight against “robocalls” is coming, and it’s targeting telemarketing text messages. In the past six months, we have seen an uptick in activity at both the state and federal level to rein in telemarketing text messages, and companies using any kind of text messaging telemarketing will want to proceed with caution.

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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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Multi-level marketing has touched us all - whether it be purchasing beauty products, essential oils, or health supplements from a friend through social media, or receiving an invitation to join a team of seemingly successful people working their “side hustle.”  But multi-level marketing is now getting some additional multi-level attention, both in the media and in the court room.

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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 the US, NIL rights (name, image, and likeness) are grouped under the right of publicity, which generally “prevents the unauthorized commercial use of an individual’s name, likeness, or other recognizable aspects of one’s persona. It gives an individual the exclusive right to license the use of their identity for commercial promotion.” NIL rules allow athletes to profit off their personal brands with promotions for various services and products through social media posts, appearances, sponsorships, autograph sales, endorsement deals and private training classes or camps.  Prior to the introduction of these laws, college athletes could not endorse products or services, under any circumstances.

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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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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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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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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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Two putative class actions recently filed in the Northern District of California—Ambrose v. Kroger Co. and Nguyen v. Amazon.com, Inc. —preview a new theory of consumer claims relating to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Rather than rely on alleged omissions or representations about health risks, the plaintiffs claim that they relied on marketing statements that indicated the products they purchased (“compostable” disposable dinnerware) were disposable and would completely degrade over time and that the presence of PFAS in the products means those marketing statements were false. That focus on the environmental persistence of PFAS, rather than the substances’ alleged health effects, marks a new approach to PFAS consumer class actions.

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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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On April 3, 2020, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and leading retailers participated in a conference call to discuss ways to protect American consumers from fraudulent COVID-19 disinfectant product claims. As the pandemic continues to wage on, some manufacturers have started to advertise their products as effective against the virus despite a lack of scientific evidence supporting the claim. Such advertising may violate federal law and potentially endangers consumer health and the environment, and could expose retailers to liability.

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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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In light of the various restrictions on retail businesses being issued nationwide in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19—such as the “safer at home” orders issued in Los Angeles County and throughout California last week—one Southern California city is taking action to support local businesses, while continuing to push compliance with the new legal restrictions.

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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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Trademarks allow businesses to protect brand names and logos used on their goods and/or services. Unlike other IP, rights in a registered trademark can last indefinitely as long as the mark is in continuous use and all the required maintenance documents are filed. Failure to file such documents results in the cancellation of the trademark registration. Once canceled, the mark can still be re-applied for by the original owner and, in certain instances, another enterprising business. Specifically, assuming the mark has been legally abandoned, the other enterprising business can file its own trademark registration application for the mark.

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On February 19, 2020, the Seventh Circuit, aligning with previous decisions of the Eleventh and Third Circuits, held in Gadelhak v. AT&T Services, Inc. that a defendant’s dialing system did not constitute an “automatic telephone dialing system” (ATDS) under the meaning of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act where it was not capable of generating random and sequential numbers. The court analyzed the language of the TCPA and determined that, as written, there were four potential ways to interpret the statutory language. However, based on both basic rules of grammar and punctuation, as well as the technology that was available at the time the TCPA was enacted into law in 1991, the Seventh Circuit decided that the Eleventh Circuit’s interpretation in Glasser v. Hilton Grand Vacations Company was the most persuasive. Therefore, the court concluded that, to be an ATDS, a device must be capable of generating random and sequential numbers. In other words, the Seventh Circuit agrees that a device is not an ATDS merely because it dials from a stored list of numbers.

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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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Since previous FCC interpretations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) were invalidated by the DC Circuit in 2018, the definition of an “automatic telephone dialing system” (“ATDS”), has been hotly contested. The Ninth Circuit has held that merely calling numbers from a stored list is sufficient to meet the definition of an ATDS, while the Second and Third Circuits have at least indicated that the ability to generate numbers randomly or sequentially is the defining characteristic. Compare Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC, 904 F.3d 1041, 1043 (9th Cir. 2018), with Dominguez v. Yahoo, Inc., 894 F.3d 116, 121 (3d Cir. 2018) and King v. Time Warner Cable, Inc., 894 F. 3d 473, 479 (2d Cir. 2018).

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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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Innovation and developments in technology bring both opportunities and challenges for the retail industry, and Hunton Andrews Kurth has a sophisticated understanding of these issues and how they affect retailers. On January 23, 2020, our cross-disciplinary retail team, composed of over 200 lawyers, released our annual Retail Industry Year in Review. The 2019 edition, Spotlight on Technology, provides an overview and analysis of recent developments impacting retailers, as well as what to expect in 2020 and beyond. Topics discussed include: braille gift cards as the next wave of ...

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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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For the past few years, retailers have been confronted with a tidal wave of litigation alleging that their websites are inaccessible in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Indeed, in 2018 alone, one analysis determined that there were at least 2,258 web accessibility cases filed in federal court, a 177 percent increase from the previous year.[1] Of these cases, a total of 1,564—over 69 percent—were filed in New York federal courts by just a handful of lawyers, including Jeffrey Gottlieb, Bradley Marks, C.K. Lee, Joseph Mizrahi, Jonathan Shalom and Doug Lipsky, with a surge following two unsuccessful motions to dismiss in cases involving Five Guys and Blick Art.

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As reported on the Hunton Andrews Kurth Privacy & Information Security Law Blog last week, on October 21, 2019, the Federal Trade Commission took action against two companies alleged to have engaged in the business of false online reviews and social media influence. In the first case, the FTC entered into a consent decree with cosmetics marketer Sunday Riley, LLC, and the company’s owner, who sell products at Sephora stores and online at Sephora.com. According to the FTC’s complaint, disguised as ordinary consumers, Sunday Riley employees and Ms. Riley herself posted fake ...

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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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Social media can be a minefield of intellectual property issues. The hashtag, for example, began as a searching tool, but now has evolved into its own form of communication. And if a hashtag can include a trademark or otherwise represent a brand, when can you use someone else’s trademark in a hashtag?

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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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A federal court in Pennsylvania has held that Liberty Mutual must defend its insured, Hershey Creamery Company, in an intellectual property infringement lawsuit because the suit raises claims that potentially implicate coverage under the policies’ personal and advertising injury coverages. The court further found that the alleged wrongful conduct was not subject to the policies’ IP infringement exclusion.

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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 ...
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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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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 ...
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While footwear may not appear to be fertile ground for new inventions, many shoe makers have been granted patent protection for the technologies that go into their products. Sometimes, those inventions are rolled out with little fanfare. Others are, literally, flashy.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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In a 2017 interview, Nigel Travis, former CEO of Dunkin’ Brands, stated that “delivery will be the next wave” in the restaurant industry and that it would “be like a revolution,” occurring “faster than anyone thinks.” Travis was not wrong; in fact, recent statistics shared by Melissa Wilson at the 2018 Restaurant Leadership Conference show Travis’ prediction quickly taking hold – 86% of consumers are using off-premise delivery services at least monthly and one third of consumers are using it more than they did a year ago. By some estimates, delivery services are projected to grow at least 12% per year over the next five years. While a handful of restaurants are filling the delivery demand themselves, more and more restaurants are looking to third-party delivery service providers to help them connect with the consumer. In fact, “third-party delivery services like UberEats, Grubhub, and Postmates currently represent $9 billion in restaurant sales today, and they are predicted to account for $16 billion in sales by 2022.”

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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.

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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.

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

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Branded keyword advertising (“BKA”)—bidding for your company’s website to feature prominently near a search engine’s results for branded or trademarked terms—has been around for over a decade. Under this practice, search engines auction off keywords, and the highest bidders receive advertising space adjacent to search results for those terms. Brand owners commonly bid on their own keywords and those of their competitors and related third parties.

Concerns that BKA runs afoul of trademark, false advertising, and unfair and deceptive trade practices laws were largely put to rest in 2013 and 2014, when a wave of court decisions held that, on its face, the practice does not constitute trademark infringement or cause customer confusion. However, a new challenge to BKA emerged earlier this year with the filing of Tichy v. Hyatt Hotels Corp., No. 1:18-cv-01959 (N.D. Ill.). In Tichy, a putative class of online consumers alleges that six major hotel chains violated antitrust laws by conspiring with each other and with third-party online travel agencies like Expedia and Priceline to refrain from bidding on each other’s branded keywords.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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