FTC Chairwoman, Edith Ramirez, recently released the FTC’s 2014 Annual Highlights. The agency’s 2014 report provides the public with a summary of the FTC’s enforcement and policy activities over the past year. According to Chairwoman Ramirez:
With over 150 law enforcement actions taken and $640 million in consumer redress ordered, we marked the FTC’s centennial year with vigorous efforts to protect consumers and promote competition in a dynamic and continuously evolving marketplace. Our enforcement, policy work, and business and consumer education demonstrate that the FTC is well positioned to serve the American public for another 100 years.
The 2014 report starts by recounting the major highlights from the FTC’s enforcement activities. In 2014, the FTC obtained several key decisions, including two victories involving contested health care mergers. The first decision, against ProMedica Health System, represents the first favorable appellate ruling in a hospital merger enforcement action in nearly thirty years. There, the Sixth Circuit ruled to uphold the FTC’s decision, finding that ProMedica’s acquisition of rival St. Luke’s Hospital violated the antitrust laws and would lead to higher prices for patients living near Toledo. The other victory involved a proposed merger between St. Luke’s Hospital and Saltzer Group in Nampa, Idaho. In that case, the Ninth Circuit upheld a lower court’s ruling that the combination of the two largest providers of adult primary care physician services in the Nampa, Idaho area would substantially reduce competition.
In addition to the FTC’s successes in the healthcare merger context, the FTC also remained focused on anticompetitive reverse patent payment settlements between branded and generic pharmaceutical mergers. As it relates directly to consumers, the FTC continued its commitment to protecting consumers against misleading health claims and claims especially those related to “miracle” products.
In the area of technology, the FTC sued to block a merger between Verisk Analytic, Inc. and EagleView Technology Corp. The Commission alleged that the proposed transaction would likely result in a virtual monopoly in the U.S. market for rooftop aerial measurement products used by the insurance industry to estimate repair costs for property damage claims. The FTC also sued to block the proposed merger between CoreLogic and DataQuick, two of only three firms that license national assessor and recorder bulk data. Before the merger, the companies competed to provide data about individual real estate properties maintained by county assessor and recorder offices to a variety of customers, from financial firms who use the data for risk and fraud analysis to internet start-ups who create consumer-oriented real estate web sites. The settlement requires the companies to license a new competitor and provide all it needs to quickly and effectively compete in the market.
As for protecting technology consumers, the FTC brought several actions in the mobile arena involving in-app charges, privacy and data security, cramming, and data throttling, including bringing cases against Apple, Google, Amazon, and AT&T. The FTC also made clear that it would continue to monitor the mobile device marketplace to safeguard data privacy and security. In fact, in early 2015, the FTC released a report on the “Internet of Things,” and followed that report with the creation of a new FTC office designed to police the ever-growing “Internet of Things.”
The FTC also remained focused on stopping fraud in 2014. This included efforts to stop telemarketing schemes aimed at the elderly or non-English speaking consumers. Additionally, the FTC continued to pursue its efforts to prevent business opportunity fraud, tech support fraud, and illegal robocall schemes. Robocalls have remained a focus for the FTC in 2015, with the FTC offering two separate financial rewards for the best ideas to stop annoying robocalls.
In addition to their enforcement program, the FTC also achieved several favorable policy results in 2014, including providing numerous advocacy comments to various state legislatures, submitting seven amicus briefs in support of several cases, providing congressional testimony, providing workshops and public forums, issuing commission and staff reports on various issues, establishing the “Every Community Initiative,” to combat fraud in all communities, and continued to engage with foreign nations to build and strengthen relationships with counterpart agencies in those respective countries.
The FTC’s report also details the FTC’s effort to educate and protect consumers. In doing so, the FTC published 55 blog posts through its Competition Matters blog. The FTC also held a “Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week,” to better educate taxpayers about potential tax identity fraud. The FTC also established its “Pass It On” campaign, tailored to people over age 65. The FTC also reached out to the Spanish-speaking communities by publishing “fotonovelas,” which were a part of the FTC’s mission to prevent fraud in every community. Finally, the FTC developed and managed its “Military Consumer” campaign, a campaign focused on empowering service members, veterans, and their families with resources to avoid scams, protect their personal information, and make wise buys.
The FTC’s efforts detailed in their 2014 Annual Highlights have continued through the start of 2015. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the FTC’s position in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC that state agencies comprised of market participants are subject to the antitrust laws in the absence of active state supervision. That same month, in the St. Luke’s Health System’s matter, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the Idaho district court’s ruling that St. Luke’s acquisition of the Saltzer physician group would have created a dominant provider of physician services for adults seeking primary care in Nampa, Idaho. Additionally, in January in the POM Wonderful case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed the Commission’s 2013 decision that the company and its principals deceptively advertised that their products could treat, prevent, or reduce the risk of certain diseases. In addition to these important decisions, the FTC has established an independent office to regulate the massive and ever-growing “Internet of Things,” as well as amending the rules regarding the FTC’s challenges to mergers.