Monday, January 31, 2022

Consumer Protection: Privacy & Facial Recognition

  • FTC Commissioner Christine Wilson issued a series of letters to Senators Ron Wyden, Maria Cantwell, and Roger Wicker as well as House of Representatives members Jan Schakowsky, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and Gus Bilirakis to request review of a proposed contract between the IRS and, an identity verification software company. Ms. Wilson’s letters highlight a recent Washington Post article predicting that taxpayers may have to scan their faces in order to access their IRS tax accounts. She also expresses concerns that’s software would not adequately protect the privacy of taxpayer records and could cause other harms, referencing a 2019 hack of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol database, which exposed thousands of photos of Americans. Commissioner Wilson notes that the recipients of her letters are leaders on privacy issues in the House and Senate, and she offered the FTC’s assistance with this request.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Bureau of Consumer Protection: COVID-19

  • FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Samuel Levine testified before the Senate Commerce Committee regarding a surge in consumer complaints about deceptive COVID-related schemes and the agency’s aggressive efforts to stop these “pandemic predators.” Director Levine discussed the agency’s efforts to expand accessibility to its Consumer Sentinel Network by modernizing consumer fraud reporting and by collecting data from multiple other agencies and law enforcement partners. He also praised the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act’s grant of authority, which allows the FTC to seek emergency injunctions, asset freezes, and civil penalties for violations of the Act. Director Levine outlined multiple recent lawsuits and other agency challenges to various fraudulent COVID-related schemes designed to exploit consumers and small businesses. He concluded his comments by renewing the agency’s call for Congress to pass legislation restoring the Commission’s ability under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act to return money to consumers harmed by illegal conduct.

Bureau of Competition: Merger Approval

  • The Commission unanimously approved a petition from Sartorious Stedim Biotech S.A. to acquire chromatography business Novasep Process SAS. Sartorious filed its petition pursuant to the FTC’s reinstated policy requiring merging parties under a Commission order to obtain prior approval from the agency before closing any future transaction. Sartorious, as an FTC-approved divestiture buyer from a 2020 transaction, fell under the prior approval policy, and submitted its petition on October 28, 2021. The petition received no public comments, and the Commission subsequently determined that the transaction was unlikely to substantially lessen competition in the relevant market. Commissioners Phillips and Wilson issued a statement noting that this action “is the first prior approval grant in recent years affirmatively approving a merger” and praised agency staff for thoroughly investigating the matter.