In a keynote address at the annual ANA/BAA Marketing Law Conference in San Diego, FTC Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips emphasized the importance of consumers having accurate information in the marketplace.
Commissioner Phillips said that consumers having accurate information was important for two reasons. First, in order for there to be effective competition, consumers need to have information so that they can "evaluate competing products to make the best possible choices." Second, he said that competition in the marketplace can be distorted when consumers do not receive accurate and material information.
He said that one of the ways in which the FTC helps ensure that consumers have access to accurate information is through its enforcement related to fake online reviews. Pointing to a number of recent cases that the FTC has brought, he said, "Posting deceptive or inaccurate information online, or engaging in other deceptive conduct like selling fake followers, distorts the online marketplace, preventing consumers from making informed purchasing decisions and creating an uneven playing field for those that follow the rules."
In addition to going after fake reviews, Commissioner Phillips also pointed to the importance of not allowing companies to prevent consumers from posting accurate reviews. Noting both the FTC's enforcement actions in this area and the passage of the Consumer Review Fairness Act, he said, "When companies prevent consumers from posting accurate reviews of products and services, this decreased flow of truthful information harms both consumers and competition."
In order to help ensure that consumers have access to accurate information, Commissioner Phillips urged advertisers to be responsible corporate citizens and to develop and adhere to industry best practices. He also told advertisers that, "if you see something, say something." He said that industry should reach out to the FTC when there are concerns about competition, a troubling practice in which others are engaged in, or trends or and developments that would inform the FTC's work.
It sounds like we're going to be hearing a lot more about consumer review-related issues from the FTC in the future.
"The FTC actively policies the marketplace to promote the dissemination of accurate information" -- FTC Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips