On April 24, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced it had sent warning letters to 10 multi-level marketing companies regarding claims they or their participants (distributors) were making in social media posts and online related to COVID-19.
The claims included supposed health benefits, as well as pitching business opportunities related to the pandemic. You can read the announcement and obtain more detailed information at FTC Sends Warning Letters to Multi-Level Marketers Regarding Health and Earnings Claims They or Their Participants are Making Related to Coronavirus. These new letters come on the heels of letters previously sent to companies about unsupported claims concerning products that can treat or prevent coronavirus (FTC, FDA Send Warning Letters to Seven Companies about Unsupported Claims that Products Can Treat or Prevent Coronavirus).
The FTC and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) have sent scores of warning letters to companies that may be violating federal law by making deceptive or scientifically unsupported claims about the ability of these products to treat or cure coronavirus. Warning letters have also been sent to voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service providers and other companies warning against “assisting and facilitating” illegal coronavirus-related telemarketing calls.
You can visit the FTC Coronavirus Warning Letters to Companies web page to see a list of warning letters related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The FTC also keeps track of consumer complaints related the pandemic and updates the data regularly. As of yesterday, there were almost 30,000 COVID-19 related consumer complaints, and although less than 50% of all these complaints report a loss, the estimated fraud losses based on those that do is now well over $20,000,000. For the latest statistics, visit Coronavirus (COVID-19) Consumer Complaint Data, which the FTC updates regularly.
The FTC and the Department of Justice have also issued a joint statement expressing their views on unfair competition and antitrust laws and regulations to make it clear, especially in these extraordinary times of crisis, how firms (including competitors) are permitted to engage in pro-competitive collaboration that does not violate the antitrust laws. You can read the statement at Joint Antitrust Statement Regarding COVID-19.
Rimon lawyers continue to follow these and related developments applicable to the Paycheck Protection Program and other government initiatives available through the SBA and related to the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information or assistance you can contact me, Joe Rosenbaum or any of the Rimon lawyers with whom you regularly work. Stay safe!!
Enrollment for the 2019 Rimon Law CLE Webinar Series being held in January is now open, so don’t wait too long to register!
Don’t miss the chance to register, to learn and to earn CLE credits.
This January (2019) we will be offering the following programs:
- State and Local Taxation: Headline News and Trends, conducted by David Fruchtman;
- Corporate Governance Issues Related to Mergers and Acquisitions of Delaware Corporations, conducted by Frank Vargas and Michael Vargas;
- It All Ads Up: Advertising, Promotions & Celebrity Endorsements in a Digital, Mobile, Social & Augmented World, conducted by Joseph I. Rosenbaum;
- Copyright and Trademark Law: The Uncomfortable Interface, conducted by Mark S. Lee; and
- Law and Behavior: Ethics in Deception before the PTO, AIA Proceedings and Enforcement Presentations, conducted by Maxim Waldbaum.
To get dates, times and more information and to register for any or all of them go to 2019 Rimon Law CLE Webinar Series.
I had the privilege of working as a contributor and contributing editor to a recently published Practice Note from Practical Law, a Thomson Reuters company, entitled Complying with New York Sweepstakes Law. Although focused on New York law, there are references to Federal law and regulation that apply throughout the United States.
If you are not already a subscriber to Practical Law, you can read the Practice Note and download a copy for your personal use and reference here: Complying with New York Sweepstakes Law. As always, if you need further information about the publication or you have questions relating to sweepstakes, contests, promotions, advertising or marketing anywhere in the world, feel free to reach out to me, Joe Rosenbaum, Partner or to any of the lawyers with whom you regularly work at Rimon Law. If you wish, you can also review my biography JIR Bio.
Thank you for being a loyal Legal Bytes reader.
On Tuesday, July 24, 2018, I had the privilege of presenting a live, interactive, video-conference program and course entitled “A Perfect Storm: The Intersection of Fake News, Celebrity Endorsements & Social Media,” sponsored by Lawline.
The course was broadcast live and also recorded at Lawline’s Studio in lower Manhattan and is now available for on-demand viewing at Lawline.com. With permission, I have also posted a PDF of the PowerPoint visuals used during the presentation (although you will not be able to see the embedded videos) and you can view or download a copy for your personal use right here: A Perfect Storm: The Intersection of Fake News, Celebrity Endorsements & Social Media
As always, if you need more information, you can contact me directly (Joe Rosenbaum) or any of the Rimon attorneys with whom you regularly work.
– Joseph I. Rosenbaum
On Friday, December 8, 2017, I had the privilege of presenting a seminar, hosted by Lawline, entitled “Augmented, Native and Interactive: The New World of Digital & Mobil Advertising.” This was broadcast live on the Web and recorded for subsequent on demand viewing and was my second presentation at Lawline. The first “Online & Mobile Digital Interactive Advertising: Video Games, Branded Entertainment, Native Advertising and Beyond” remains available as a web-based, on demand offering at Lawline.
This seminar provided an update on many of the concepts and principles discussed in the first program, including some basic principles of advertising law that applies in both the traditional and digital/mobile environment and provided updated information on game advertising – both advertising the game and in-game advertising – as well native advertising and guidance from the Federal Trade Commission. This recent session also delved into a number of digital and mobile advertising issues that were not part of the first presentation, such as celebrity endorsements, bloggers, experts & consumer testimonials in social media, augmented reality and advertising in virtual worlds, programmatic buying and the current tensions in the industry concerning transparency and relationships between advertisers and integrated agencies. You can view the slide images of my presentation “The New World of Digital & Mobil Advertising” and, of course, you can view the recorded session which is available exclusively through Lawline.
As always, if you need assistance or require any additional information, feel free to contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, at Rimon, P.C.
I am proud to be among the 22 legal professionals, including 7 of my colleagues at Rimon, who contributed and co-authored a new book entitled Handbook on Global Social Media Law for Business Lawyers, published by ABA Publishing. This comprehensive work, sponsored by the Business Law Section of the American Bar Association, was co-edited by Valerie Surgenor, a partner in the Glasgow, Scotland, law firm MacRoberts LLP and John Isaza, my friend and partner here at Rimon, P.C. Although principally focused on the United States, there are contributions from foreign lawyers in key regions around the world, including Canada, the European Union, Australia, Russia and Asia.
The Handbook deals with national and international law principles and emerging issues related to social media law, ethics, compliance and governance, including cybersecurity, cyber terrorism and risk management in a social media environment (e.g., hacking, corporate espionage, data loss and data breach); intellectual property issues in social media; defamation, “fake news” and social media; implementation of a social media crisis plan; use of social media as a tool in recruitment of employees and the privacy implications to employers; promotional, endorsement and social media disclosure guidelines promulgated by the Federal Trade Commission in the US; and recent trends in UK and European social media legislation and regulation. There is a separate chapter that discusses information and records management within the context of social media.
If you are interested, you can order a copy directly from the ABA (Handbook on Global Social Media Law for Business Lawyers) and of course, if you need more information or want to discuss your particular requirements with knowledgeable and experienced professionals, feel free to reach out to me, Joe Rosenbaum, or to any of the lawyers at Rimon with whom you work with regularly.
Many thanks to the International Law Office (ILO) for publishing a derivative of our Legal Bytes article. You can download and read a personal copy of the ILO posting FTC Targets Ads That Target Kids, or you can read the original Legal Bytes blog posting at "Mom, is it OK for them to follow me?" FTC Targets Ads That Target Kids.
I have to thank Carl Bialik, The Numbers Guy writer and blogger for The Wall Street Journal, for including a quote in his recent (September 23, 2011) column, Bag Battle Takes a Statistical Turn.
The column focuses on the use of statistics by competitors and analysts alike – in this case statistics that related to claims made by Chicobag about the environmental impact of reusable plastic bags that many retail stores use to bag items, from groceries to clothing, when you check out with your purchases. It seems that Chicobag made some claims – citing statistics – about its products. Mr. Bialik’s column notes that Hilex Poly and some other competitors challenged the claims being made by Chicobag, and were unable to come to grips with either the numbers or the claims; litigation ensued.
Although Mr. Bialik focuses on the way numbers are used and the difficulties inherent in accumulating and using statistics – often when the subject matter may actually be a moving target – the legal issue is similarly complex. More often than not, false, misleading, deceptive advertising claims challenge the explicit veracity of a claim and whether that claim can be substantiated or whether the “net impression” or implicit claims (e.g., pictures or activities) can mislead or potentially deceive consumers. This claim, brought as an action under the Lanham Act – seeking an injunction and damages for false advertising and unfair competition for both a violation of section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a), and under a state statute (South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act, South Carolina Code Annotated § 39-5-10, et seq.) – really revolves around whether the veracity or inaccuracy of claims (even if they can be substantiated or derived from facts that were believed to be true when stated) makes any difference at all in the minds of consumers.
Without giving away The Numbers Guy’s secrets (or forgetting the Federal Trade Commission Act that prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce”), the legal claim, in my view, hinged not on whether the statistics claimed by Chicobag were incorrect or even in some cases materially inaccurate, but whether the particular claims as made using those statistics, were material to a consumer. Whether a consumer was likely to make a different purchasing decision – or might at least be informed enough to consider doing so – based on the degree of inaccuracy.
So when you think of my blog Legal Bytes, I’ll close with a claim that everyone sees on those pizza cartons around the country – maybe the world: “You’ve tried the rest. Now try the best!” Can you say “puffery”?
Many of us remember when kids were actually worried about being caught misbehaving. Back in those days, parent’s concern over children’s behavior dealt with whether the kids were ‘fresh’ or ‘mischievous’ or talked too much in school. I was perennially the subject of “he would do so much better in class if he just stopped horsing around and paid attention.” Dear Mrs. Frohman, Mrs. Handel, Mrs. Flynn and Mrs. Bernstein – thanks! It took me several decades, but I finally got the message. Today, however, when we hear the terms children and behavior – well, at least according to the FTC, it ain’t the children that are misbehaving.
In a proposed amendment to rules that have been in effect since 2000, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) is proposing amendments to COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act”) that “would require parental notification and consent prior to the collection of persistent identifiers where they are used for purposes such as amassing data on a child’s online activities or behaviorally targeting advertising to the child.” In describing the proposed changes (the proposed Amendment runs 122 pages long), the FTC notes that these new rules would apply to any identifying or tracking technology (cookies) that would link a child’s browsing behavior across multiple web pages and services – ostensibly including advertising networks and metric/measurement/analytical service providers who routinely have access to such information.
Although a ‘safe harbor’ for compliance with self-regulatory programs is included within the FTC’s proposal, it did suggest that these programs (and individual company compliance with these programs) be more closely monitored and supervised – including mandatory audits every 18 months and reports detailing actions taken by the self-regulatory body against the companies that do not comply. Clearly, one of the FTC’s objectives is to not only ensure a mandatory review of compliance, even for those companies that have not been subject to proceedings, but also to create a record-keeping and reporting system that gives the FTC the ability to obtain detailed information about the proceedings and the compliance efforts of individual companies.
Comments, which are due by November 28, 2011, may be filed with the FTC using it’s COPPA Rule Review Form. If you are interested, concerned, want your voice heard, or otherwise need to be guided by experienced counsel in this area, please feel free to contact me, Joseph I. Rosenbaum, or the Rimon lawyer with whom you regularly work. We would be happy to help!
Late this past June, the Federal Trade Commission indicated it was launching an investigation into Google’s search engine technology and whether it pushes consumers to Google’s other services in a manner that is unfair to competition.
That also means that the FTC will not only be asking Google for records and information about the way it conducts its business, but it will also be asking for information from Google’s competitors (presumably who would provide information gleefully, except that they best be careful about celebrating too prematurely when they hand over information to the government), AND – here it comes – lots of companies who do business with Google: The host of third parties that are advertising and marketing networks, publishers, services, sponsors and, yes, even advertisers and agencies themselves.
What should you do? Well we’ve prepared a handy reference guide – What Should You Do When the FTC Calls About Google? to explain what the FTC can ask, to explain a few of the basic legal principles that apply to the “asking” the FTC may engage in and, frankly, a warning that you should be calling your lawyers—lawyers knowledgeable in this process—and protecting your interests. For you in-house lawyers out there, if you aren’t familiar with handling these inquiries and third-party requests, perhaps you should consider engaging the services of outside lawyers who know how to help. So whether you know you need help, before or after receiving an inquiry from the FTC – formal or informal – or if you aren’t sure, you might just want to call Joseph I. Rosenbaum, Rachel A. Rubin or the Rimon lawyer with whom you regularly work. We would be happy to help!