Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joe Simons testified today about the FTC's consumer protection and other priorities before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection. Here are some of the highlights.
Testifying on behalf of the FTC, Simons said, "As the nation's primary consumer protection agency, the FTC has a broad mandate to protect consumers from unfair, deceptive, or fraudulent practices in the marketplace. It does this by, among other things, pursuing law enforcement actions to stop unlawful practices, and educating consumers and business about their rights and responsibilities, respectively."
Simons said that privacy and data security "top the list" of consumer protection priorities at the FTC and that it will "use every tool at its disposal to redress consumer harm." He also said that the FTC "takes seriously" its commitment to protecting children's privacy as well. Noting that there are limitations on the FTC's authority -- including that Section 5 does not provide for civil penalties, that the FTC doesn't have authority over non-profits and common carriers, and that the FTC lacks broad rule making authority -- he called for comprehensive data security legislation.
Another top priority at the FTC, Simons said, is ensuring that national advertising is truthful and not misleading. He said that this has always been one of the FTC's "core missions because it allows consumers to make the best use of their resources and promotes competition by companies on a level playing field." Simons pointed to the fact that the FTC has recently brought cases challenging false and unsubstantiated health claims, including those targeting older consumers, consumers affected by the opioid crisis, and consumers with serious medical conditions. Simons also said that the FTC has challenged false claims in the financial area.
Simons also testified that fighting fraud is also a major FTC focus. Simons said that the FTC's "anti-fraud program attempts to track down and stop some of the most egregious scams that prey on U.S. Consumers -- often, the most vulnerable consumers who can least afford to lose money." Simons pointed to enforcement in the area of imposter scams, tech scams, and small business scams, as well as moneymaking frauds involving cryptocurrencies.
Battling illegal robocalls are also a top priority, Simons said. Noting the challenges the FTC faces in stopping them, the FTC renewed its call to expand its jurisdiction to cover common carriers. Simons testified that the "exemption is outdated and no longer makes sense in today's marketplace where the lines between telecommunications and other services are increasingly blurred."
Regarding its international work in the consumer protection area, Simons said that enforcement cooperation is the top priority of the FTC's intentional consumer protection program.
The FTC remains committed to maximizing its resources to enhance its effectiveness in protecting consumers and promoting competition, to anticipate and respond to changes in the marketplace, and to meet current and future challenges.