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Jan 25 -- FTC extends the comment period until February 8, 2023. https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2023-01471

1) Nov 8 -- The Federal Trade Commission (the “Commission”) proposes to commence a rulemaking proceeding to address certain deceptive or unfair uses of reviews and endorsements. The Commission is soliciting written comment, data, and arguments concerning the need for such a rulemaking to prevent unfair or deceptive marketing utilizing reviews and endorsements. In addition, the Commission solicits comment on how the Commission can ensure the broadest participation by affected interests in the rulemaking process. Comments must be received on or before January 9, 2023.

Fake and deceptive reviews and other endorsements have long been problematic, and we have no reason to believe the market will correct this problem on its own. The commercial incentives to engage in such misconduct can be large. It can be difficult for anyone—including consumers, competitors, platforms, and researchers—to distinguish real from fake and determine the truth in this area. Further, some platforms may have mixed incentives to deal effectively with the problematic reviews and, despite some platforms purporting to take enforcement of problematic reviews seriously, fake and deceptive reviews continue to flourish on those very platforms. The sheer number of people engaged in fraudulent or deceptive reviews and endorsements makes them even more difficult to combat, especially given such content is often created by individuals or small companies, some of whom are located abroad.

Although the Commission has brought several cases involving reviews and other endorsements under Section 5 of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. 45, our current remedial authority is limited. Monetary relief is no longer available under Section 13(b), disgorgement is not available under Section 19(b), 15 U.S.C. 57b(b), and, while the Commission has deployed new tools to combat this problem, in many cases, it remains difficult to obtain monetary relief.

Under these circumstances, the availability of a civil penalty remedy may provide a potent deterrent. We believe initiating a Magnuson-Moss rulemaking to address certain types of clear Section 5 violations involving reviews and endorsements would benefit consumers, help level the playing field, and not burden legitimate marketers. The rule would be designed to deter bad actors, simplify our enforcement burdens by spelling out prohibitions plainly, and subject violators to civil penalties.

The Commission has well-established guidance on endorsements and testimonials. In particular, the Endorsement Guides reportedly remain very helpful to legitimate actors in the marketplace, but Commission guides are not enforceable regulations. Truly bad actors will not be deterred by Commission guidance, but the possibility of substantial civil penalties changes the economic incentives and may provide greater deterrence as to both legitimate and bad actors.

The Commission requests input on whether and how it should use its authority under Section 18 of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. 57a, to address certain inarguably deceptive or unfair commercial acts or practices involving reviews or other endorsements. The Commission does not propose to cover every issue addressed in the Endorsement Guides. Specifically, the Commission proposes addressing the following practices, many of which have been the subject of Commission investigations or law enforcement actions:

(a) reviews or endorsements by people who do not exist, who did not actually use or test the product or service, or who are misrepresenting their experience with it; 
(b) review hijacking, where a seller steals or repurposes reviews of another product;
(c) marketers offering compensation or other incentives in exchange for, or conditioned on, the writing of positive or negative consumer reviews; 
(d) owners, officers, or managers of a company: (i) writing reviews or testimonials of their own products or services, or publishing testimonials by their employees or family members, which fail to provide clear and conspicuous disclosures of those relationships, or (ii) soliciting reviews from employees or relatives without instructing them to disclose their relationships;
(e) the creation or operation of websites, organizations, or entities that purportedly provide independent reviews or opinions of products or services but are, in fact, created and controlled by the companies offering the products or services; 
(f) misrepresenting that the consumer reviews displayed represent most or all of the reviews submitted when, in fact, reviews are being suppressed based upon their negativity; 
(g) the suppression of customer reviews by physical threat or unjustified legal threat; or
(h) selling, distributing, or buying, followers, subscribers, views, and other indicators of social media influence.

The Commission hopes that by focusing on practices most clearly and inarguably deceptive or unfair, it can streamline its rulemaking, benefit consumers, and not burden legitimate marketers.

The Commission seeks comment on, among other things, the prevalence of each of the above practices, the costs and benefits of a rule that would address them, and alternatives to such a rulemaking, such as the publication of additional consumer and business education. In their replies, commenters should provide any available evidence and data that supports their position, such as empirical data, consumer perception studies, and consumer complaints.

FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2022-24139

2) Oct 20 [press release] -- FTC to Explore Rulemaking to Combat Fake Reviews and Other Deceptive Endorsements: Agency seeks comments on the harms and pervasiveness of fake and paid reviews, and other deceptive endorsement tactics
The Federal Trade Commission announced today it is exploring a potential rule to combat deceptive or unfair review and endorsement practices, such as using fake reviews, suppressing negative reviews, and paying for positive reviews. Deceptive and manipulated reviews and endorsements cheat consumers looking for real feedback on a product or service and undercut honest businesses.The FTC’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) seeks public comment on potential harms stemming from deceptive or unfair review and endorsement practices and whether a rule would help consumers and level the playing field for honest marketers.

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