FTC issues final order with skincare company for false reviews
On November 6, the FTC announced a final order with a skincare company, resolving allegations that the company misled consumers by posting fake reviews on a retailer’s website and failed to disclose company employees wrote the reviews. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in October 2019, the FTC filed the complaint against the company asserting that (i) the product reviews posted on the company’s website were not “independent experiences or opinions of impartial ordinary users of the products” and therefore, were false or misleading under Section 5 of the FTC Act; and (ii) the failure to disclose the reviews were written by the owner or employees constitutes a deceptive act or practice under Section 5 of the FTC Act, because the information would “be material to consumers in evaluating the reviews of [the company] brand products in connection with a purchase or use decision.”
The Commission, in a 3-2 vote, approved the final order, which prohibits the company from misrepresenting the status of an endorser, including misrepresentations that the endorser or reviewer is an “independent or ordinary user of the product.” The order requires the company and owner to “clearly and conspicuously, and in close proximity to that representation, any unexpected material connection between such endorser and (1) any Respondent; or (2) any other individual or entity affiliated with the product.” The final order does not include any monetary relief for consumers.
In dissent, two Commissioners objected to the final order, stating that the agency is “doubling down on its no-money, no-fault settlement with [the company], who was charged with egregious fake review fraud.” The dissent urged the Commission to publish a statement on monetary remedies in order to restate “legal precedent into formal rules” and designate specific misconduct as penalty offenses through Section 5(m)(1)(B) of the FTC Act, which allows the agency “to seek penalties against parties who engage in conduct known to have been previously condemned by the Commission.”