As the keynote speaker on September 30 at the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council's annual conference, Jessica Rich, the new Director of the Federal Trade Commission's consumer protection bureau, shared her agenda for the agency.
Rich, who has been with the agency for 20 years, said the FTC "has long had a focus on national advertising. We're by no means finished." Specifically, that means keeping an eye on issues such as deceptive health and safety claims, hidden fees or "drip" pricing, and the marketing of food to children.
New areas of attention include privacy, which Rich characterized as "a huge priority" because "consumers should be able to expect basic privacy and security protections." A recent case against a company selling video monitoring systems – the agency's first action taken in the "Internet of Things" ecosystem – signals what is to come, she said, with other investigations under way.
Deceptive environmental claims will also be considered by the FTC. "A growing number of consumers are looking to buy green products and companies respond with green marketing. But sometimes what companies think green claims mean and what consumers think they mean are two different things," Rich said.
Digital marketing, including concerns about native advertising and the sufficiency of disclosures on mobile platforms, is also on Rich's enforcement radar. "This will be an area of increased law enforcement activity in the coming year," she said. She noted that the agency has released several pieces of guidance in the area, including instructions to search engines that they must distinguish natural search from paid search results and the updated Dot Com Disclosures.
Echoing a recent theme from other officials at the FTC, Rich also said the practices of data brokers will remain under close scrutiny, with the agency set to release a report by the end of the year.
Why it matters: Privacy and the rise of big data remain key issues for the Commission, along with environmental claims and digital advertising. Although this should come as no surprise to the industry in light of comments by other members of the FTC and the agency's recent enforcement actions, their comments serve as a road map for enforcement activity in the near future.