FTC’s Jessica Rich Lays Out Ambitious Ad Enforcement Agenda

Talks priorities at Advertising Self-Regulatory Council conference

Jessica Rich—the Federal Trade Commission’s front line to advertising regulation as director of the agency’s consumer protection bureau—is energetic and organized. She’ll need to be to tackle the ambitious agenda she laid out in her keynote speech to more than 100 marketers and advertising attorneys during the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council’s annual conference in New York.

Rich, a 20-year FTC career attorney, is best known for her work in crafting the agency’s privacy policies. But now she’s head of the division that cracks down on unfair and deceptive advertising practices, too.

Named to her position in June, Rich’s remarks marked her first public appearance before the advertising community. Like her predecessor, David Vladeck, Rich said marketers should expect more of the same from the division.

“The FTC has long had a focus on national advertising. We’re by no means finished,” Rich said.

In addition to continuing the commission’s focus on deceptive health and safety claims (making sure claims are backed by scientific evidence), “drip” pricing (hidden fees for services and products that aren’t disclosed on websites) and food marketing to children, Rich said the agency will also begin to ramp up enforcement of deceptive environmental claims. The agency will also ramp up its law enforcement in digital marketing and privacy.

The coming crackdown on environmental claims follows an update of the FTC’s “green guides,” released last year at the ASRC conference.

“A growing number of consumers are looking to buy green products and companies respond with green marketing. But sometimes what companies think green claims mean and what consumers think they mean are two different things,” Rich said.

Keeping pace with all the new marketing platforms, Rich signaled she will also expand the agency’s law enforcement front in digital. As emphasized in the FTC’s recent updated guidance on dot-com disclosures, advertising disclosures on mobile platforms “must be clear and conspicuous.”

“This will be an area of increased law enforcement activity in the coming year,” Rich said.

The FTC is also expanding its digital enforcement to other digital marketing strategies. It recently updated its search engine guidelines and is beginning to scrutinize whether search engines make it easy for consumers to distinguish paid search results. The FTC is also taking the first steps towards guidance for native advertising, beginning with a workshop scheduled for Dec. 4.

Near and dear to Rich’s heart and work at the FTC, Rich called privacy “a huge priority.” She said the agency will focus first on big data because it “raises numerous privacy concerns,” whether online or on mobile. The FTC’s report, based on its investigation of data broker practices, will be released by the end of the year.

“The NSA and [Edward] Stone incidents have done a lot to raise awareness about the collection of consumer data,” Rich said. “Consumers should be able to expect basic privacy and security protections,” Rich said.

In the privacy area, Rich noted that the agency recently brought its first enforcement case addressing a big priority for chairwoman Edith Ramirez, the “Internet of things” with the case against TrendNet, a company that failed to protect the consumers’ personal video monitoring streams. Rich said there were other investigations underway.

Companies that fail to protect consumers’ sensitive data, like health, financial, and children’s data, are also at risk of enforcement, Rich said, pointing to the agency’s two recent actions against Wynham Hotels and LabMD.

New Coppa rules, which went into effect July 1, will be part of the agency’s privacy enforcement.

Overall, Rich advised companies to take seriously the FTC’s recommendations for best privacy practice by designing privacy into the design of digital platforms, providing transparency to consumers with easy to understand terms of collection and use, and streamlining privacy choices for consumers.

“Consumers should be able to expect basic privacy and security protections,” said Rich, summarizing her privacy policy to a simple slogan: “Expect privacy.”


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