This week, the FTC partnered with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to explore background screening issues affecting individuals who seek rental housing in the United States. For the first time, the Commission returned funds to consumers whose health data was compromised. Lastly, the Commission announced a workshop to discuss “recyclable” advertising claims. These stories and more after the jump.
Tuesday, February 28, 2023
Bureau of Consumer Protection: Housing and Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)
- The FTC and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced that they are requesting comments on background screening issues affecting individuals who seek rental housing in the United States, including how the use of criminal and eviction records and algorithms affect tenant screening decisions and may be driving discriminatory outcomes. As part of the Request for Information, the FTC and CFPB are asking current tenants, prospective tenants, advocacy groups, commercial and individual landlords, property managers, background screening companies, other consumer reporting agencies and others to weigh in on a wide array of issues that affect tenant screening such as: (1) how criminal and eviction records are used by landlords and property managers in making housing decisions; (2) how landlords and property managers are setting application and screening fees; and (3) how algorithms, automated decision-making, artificial intelligence or similar technology are used in the tenant screening process.
Wednesday, March 1, 2023
Bureau of Consumer Protection: Environmental Marketing Workshop
- The FTC announced that it will host a workshop on May 23, 2023 at the Constitution Center in Washington D.C. from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm ET, to examine “recyclable” advertising claims as part of its review of the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, commonly known as the Green Guides. The event will cover topics including: the current state of recycling practices and recycling-related advertising in the United States, consumer perception of current and emerging recycling-related claims, and the need for any updates or other changes to the Green Guides related to recycling claims. The event likely will include panels on these subjects. A more detailed agenda will be published in the coming months. The workshop will also be available for viewing live on the internet. Written comments related to the issues to be discussed at the workshop must be received by June 13, 2023. Information about how to submit comments can be found in the Federal Register Notice.
Thursday, March 2, 2023
FTC Operations: Commissioner Christine Wilson Resignation Letter
- Republican Commissioner Christine Wilson announced in a letter to President Joe Biden that she will resign from her role at the end of March. The letter highlighted the FTC’s declining results in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and critiqued Chair Lina Khan’s leadership. The letter explained that “under her (Khan’s) leadership, knowledgeable career staff have been scorned and sidelined.” Commissioner Wilson’s letter also urged President Biden to “closely examine developments at the FTC to ensure that [his] vision of a ‘return to normalcy’ is being implemented with care.”
Bureau of Consumer Protection: Consumer Privacy and Online Advertising and Marketing
- The FTC announced a proposed order banning BetterHelp, Inc., the online counseling service provider, from sharing consumers’ health data for advertising. According to the complaint, BetterHelp pushed consumers to turnover their health information by repeatedly showing them privacy misrepresentations and nudging them with unavoidable prompts to sign up for its counseling service. BetterHelp allegedly failed to maintain sufficient policies or procedures to protect the sensitive information and did not obtain consumers’ affirmative express consent before disclosing their health data. BetterHelp also failed to place any limits on how third parties could use consumers’ health information—allowing Facebook and other third parties to use that information for their own internal purposes, including for research and development or to improve advertising. The proposed order also requires BetterHelp to pay $7.8 million to consumers who signed up for and paid for BetterHelp’s services. The proposed order also limits the ways in which BetterHelp can share consumer data. This includes limitations to sharing consumers’ personal information with certain third-parties for re-targeting consumers who previously had visited BetterHelp’s website or application. This is the FTC’s first action that returns funds to consumers whose health data was compromised.
Friday, March 3, 2023
Bureau of Consumer Protection: Online Advertising and Marketing and Deceptive and Misleading Conduct.
- The FTC announced lawsuits against doTERRA International, LLC, a Wellness multi-level marketing company, and three current and former high-level distributors for allegedly making false claims that the company’s essential oils and dietary supplements could treat, prevent, or cure COVID-19. The complaints, filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC, allege that the defendants made numerous claims about the ability of various doTERRA products to prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19, in violation of the FTC Act and the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act. According to the proposed consent decrees, the defendants have agreed to: (1) cease making any claims that a product can prevent, cure, or treat COVID-19, unless the FDA has approved the claim; (2) have reliable human clinical testing and scientific proof to support all health claims; and (3) each pay $15,000 in civil penalties.