Advertising & Product Risk Management

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Multiple class actions have alleged violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) for use of automated dialing systems (auto-dialer). In a 2015 Order, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defined an auto-dialer under the TCPA to mean any device with the theoretical “capacity” to place autodialed calls, even if had the potential to be transformed into an auto-dialer. Importantly, the FCC’s definition was prospective and applied even if additional software was required. However, several recent cases have narrowed the scope of the definition of “auto-dialer,” creating a potential hurdle for plaintiffs and creating confusion about the viability of class actions that hinge on whether the marketing platforms used to send messages to consumers qualify as “auto-dialers.”

In March, in ACA International v. Federal Communications Commission, No. 15-1211 (D.C. Cir. Mar. 16, 2018), the D.C. Circuit limited the FCC’s 2015’s broad prospective definition of auto-dialer, stating that it would “subject ordinary calls from any conventional smartphone to the act’s coverage” and that the statute did not necessitate such a “sweeping swoop.”  Instead, the court reasoned, the proper analysis of whether a device is an auto-dialer under the TCPA should turn on the capacity of a device to behave as an auto-dialer, as well as the amount of effort required to turn a device into an auto-dialer.


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You may have received an e-mail notice this week from the CPSC about the FOIA office’s new “Electronic Manufacturer Notification Collaboration Portal.”  The main purpose of the Portal is to reduce costs by using e-mail instead of snail mail for Section 6(b) and other FOIA-related notifications. 

Generally, automation of this process shouldn’t result in any meaningful changes in the FOIA notification and objection process.  The Commission’s regulations allow firms to submit information with a request for confidential treatment.  If the Commission receives a FOIA request for information previously designated confidential, the person who previously submitted the request for confidentiality is notified of the FOIA request and the need for quick response to protect that information from disclosure.

Given the quick turnaround time on requesting exemption from disclosure under FOIA, it is imperative for all industry players to make sure that the right contact is assigned – including someone in the Legal Department – to receive Portal notifications so your team can make quick decisions and take action if filing an objection with the CPSC is necessary.  The same contact person used for the Clearinghouse or Saferproducts.gov is a good bet.  But requesting an exemption under FOIA takes some analysis of the regulations.  Was the information submitted under section 15?  Is it a trade secret?  And so, companies would be well advised to make sure they have a process in place and conduct a training program to protect confidential data from disclosure.

If you haven’t yet received any notifications about the new automated Portal, you should check in with the CPSC at cpsc-foia@cpsc.gov and provide contact information for the proper registration person.  The full text of the notification recently sent by the CPSC is below:


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Product liability suits and regulatory product defect enforcement actions associated with consumer foreseeable – and unforeseeable – misuse have become the norm. Consumer product companies can mitigate these risks by focusing on use-related hazards and user-centered designs in an effort to reduce injuries and improve the usability of products. But the real question is how far to go with these efforts — at what cost and for what incremental benefit.

On March 15, 2018, the Consumer Product Safety Commission published Draft Guidance on the Application of Human Factors to Consumer Products for industry comment by May 14, 2018. The draft guidance was developed in conjunction with Health Canada’s Consumer Product Safety Directorate. CPSC and Health Canada aim to increase product safety by explaining to product designers and manufacturers how to incorporate human factors[1] into the design process.

The draft guidance describes the product design process and provides guidance on human factors considerations at each stage and then summarized in the graphic depictions collected at the end of this post. Because the guidance is not an enforceable rule, no cost benefit analysis accompanies the myriad of product design recommendations proposed.


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The FTC’s Consumer Protection Division has long targeted advertisements for “work-at-home,” business and investment opportunities that exaggerate the earning potential and downplay risks. Recently, the FTC announced that it filed a complaint against four individuals doing business as “Bitcoin Funding Team” in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida for deceptively advertising a cryptocurrency scheme that promised consumers that they could turn a cryptocurrency payment of approximately $100 into $80,000 in monthly income. Specifically, the complaint alleges two counts: 1) that Defendants’ representations that the programs are structured to operate as bona fide money-making opportunities are false or misleading and violate Section 5(a) of the FTC Act, and 2) that Defendants’ representations that consumers who participate in the programs are likely to earn substantial income are also false or misleading, violating Section 5(a). On March 16th, the Commission secured a temporary restraining order against, and froze the assets of pending trial, the defendants it alleges who were operating and promoting cryptocurrency pyramid schemes.


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The news that Cambridge Analytica, the shadowy, digital political consultancy, may have misused user data obtained from Facebook is reverberating throughout Washington and foreign capitals. The immediate fallout has been calls for Congressional and federal investigations into what happened. The Federal Trade Commission has taken the unusual step of publicly announcing a “non-public” investigation into whether Facebook breached the terms of a 2011 consent agreement with the agency. A coalition of 37 State Attorneys General has also sent a letter to Facebook demanding information about how the company handles information collected by users.

Of course, it doesn’t help that Cambridge Analytica’s Chief Executive Officer was caught on hidden camera pitching outright blackmail and dirty tricks to sway future elections. But, the real scandal appears to be that Cambridge misused information collected from Facebook members and their friends in order to psychologically manipulate them to favor one candidate over another. The ensuing media attention has brought to the fore concerns that have been simmering for years, but which have until now largely been ignored by average consumers.


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In the largest-ever penalty issued against an ad agency, the Federal Trade Commission announced that Marketing Architects, Inc. (MAI) agreed to pay $2 million dollars to settle a false advertising complaint filed with the FTC and the State of Maine Attorney General’s Office.

The ad agency came to the FTC’s attention after the Commission settled with Direct Alternatives (DA) and Sensa Products, LLC  for more than $16 million and more than $26 million respectively to resolve claims that the companies engaged in the false and deceptive advertising, marketing and sale of weight loss products.  According to the Complaint, MAI created direct response radio ads for Sensa and DA as well as MI6 Holdings, LLC (MI6) and other unidentified clients with toll free numbers inviting consumers to call and purchase weight loss. In addition, for some clients, including DA, MAI created and implemented scripts for its Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, providing testing, analysis and strategic advice regarding the performance of its IVR scripts and ads as well as collecting payment information.


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The National Advertising Division, referred Pharmavite, LLC to the Federal Trade Commission after the company refused to comply with NAD’s recommendations that it discontinue its claim that its NatureMade Omega 3 Xtra Blend dietary supplement has “Nearly 4X Better Absorption* *than standard fish oil concentrate.”

To substantiate its “Nearly 4X Better Absorption” claim, Pharmavite relied on a study that compared the absorption of 630 mg and 1680 mg doses of EPA/DHA omega 3 fatty acids manufactured with and without a self-microemulsifying drug delivery system (SMEDS). The study determined that the absorption of EPA/DHA manufactured with SMEDS was better than the absorption rate of standard fish oil (manufactured without SMEDS) for the two doses of EPA/DHA. The study concluded that there was a 6.2 differential for a 630 mg dose and a 9.6 differential for a 1680 mg dose.


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On January 8, 2018, the FTC announced settlement of its first connected toy case with VTech Electronics Ltd (“VTech”) for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rules by failing to properly collect and protect personal information about and from children and violating the FTC Act by misrepresenting its security practices. In addition to paying a $650,000 civil penalty, VTech agreed to comply with COPPA, implement and maintain a comprehensive information security program with regular third-party security audits for the next twenty years, and not misrepresent its privacy and data security practices.

The settlement comes more than two years after VTech learned that a hacker had gained remote access to databases for its interactive electronic learning products (ELPs), including for its Kid Connect chat application, in what was described at the time as the largest known hack targeting children. According to the FTC’s Complaint, the hacker accessed VTech’s databases “by exploiting commonly known and reasonably foreseeable vulnerabilities,” and VTech was unaware of the intrusion until it was informed by a reporter.


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Surveys play an increasingly important role in consumer class actions, whether used to deny class certification, defeat plaintiffs’ allegations of consumer “deception,” or even refute damages arguments.

Recently, beverage giant Starbucks Corp. defeated a proposed class action alleging that Starbucks had violated consumer protection statutes in California, Florida, and New York by uniformly filling its lattes and mochas with more foam – and less actual beverage – than a reasonable consumer would expect. In dismissing the case on summary judgment and denying class certification as moot, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers for the Northern District of California focused on the plaintiffs’ flawed survey results. Strumlauf et al. v. Starbucks Corp., No. 16-CV-01306-YGR, 2018 WL 306715 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 5, 2018). The plaintiffs had introduced an expert report presenting the results of two surveys purporting to show that 70-80% of consumers expected that the “Promised Beverage Volume” of Starbucks lattes did not include foam. The first survey showed respondents a sample menu board with small, medium, and large and asked how many fluid ounces of beverage they expected to receive. This survey was flawed, the court found, because it did not measure consumers’ understanding of what “fluid ounce” means. The second survey showed images of a cup with varying amounts of fluid and foam and then asked which “medium 16 fl. oz. beverage” the respondents expected to receive. This survey, too, fell short because it showed a “caricatured image” and “the ‘question begg[ed] its answer [and was] not a true indicator of the likelihood of consumer confusion.’” In sum, the Court attacked the surveys as “leading and suggestive” and ultimately found they failed to establish a triable issue on consumer deception.


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