FTC to focus on consumer injury, minimizing paperwork requests to companies

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By Diane Bartz | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON The Federal Trade Commission will
focus on fraud and be judicious in making paperwork requests
when it opens an investigation into a company, acting FTC
Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen said in a speech on Thursday.

Ohlhausen called fighting fraud the “core of the FTC’s
consumer protection mission.”

“These cases may not forge new legal ground or prompt huge
headlines but such actions defend the consumer harmed by an
unscrupulous con artist,” she said at an American Bar
Association Consumer Protection Conference in Atlanta, according
to an advance text of her speech.

Taking a cue from President Donald Trump’s interest in
cutting red tape, Ohlhausen said that she would push to
streamline agency information requests. “Such requests impose
large compliance costs on legitimate companies,” she said.

During the Obama administration, the FTC was aggressive in
going after companies such as Wyndham Hotels that it
alleged were sloppy with consumer data and also pursued
companies like POM Wonderful that made health claims the agency
felt were inadequately substantiated.

That said, she said she supported the FTC’s decision to go
after the infidelity-dating website Ashley Madison after a 2015
data breach resulted in a leak of details on 36 million user
accounts. She noted that people committed suicide after they
were found to have used the site.

“Although monetary injury has been our primary focus, we
have seen substantial injury arise from the exposure of more
than just financial information,” she said.

But she disagreed with other assessments of harm, including
the agency’s $20 million settlement with ride-hailing company
Uber last month over allegations it exaggerated
earnings claims to attract drivers. “It was an order of
magnitude higher than our best evidence of consumer harm,” she

But John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog, which has pushed the
FTC to be more aggressive, strongly supported the Uber
settlement. “Disgorgement seems to be the only way to get the
attention of these companies,” he said.

Alden Abbott of the conservative Heritage Foundation called
the acting chairman’s priorities “good steps forward. She’s
careful, she’s judicious and focused on consumer injury.”

The FTC normally has five members but two seats are vacant.
A third becomes vacant next week when former Chairwoman Edith
Ramirez steps down, leaving just Ohlhausen and Democrat Terrell
McSweeny at the agency. It is not known when Trump will name a
permanent chair or fill the three empty seats.

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