FTC Director Discusses 2002 Agenda

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WASHINGTON -- Combating fraud, privacy initiatives, and the creation of a national do-not-call list are key priorities this year for the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Protection Bureau, FTC Director Howard Beales told attendees yesterday at the 2002 Annual Government Affairs conference.

The FTC has announced 11 federal court actions recently as part of its "Operation Dialing for Deception" law enforcement sweep. Among those charged were the purveyors of advance-fee loans and credit cards, at-home medical billing programs and work-at-home envelope stuffing schemes.

Beales also said the FTC is stressing "continued vigorous enforcement in our advertisement substantiation program, and we will continue to emphasize the importance of compliance with rules and orders."

For example, Beales said that the FTC conducted its 'Green Light/Red Light Conference' yesterday for more than 200 attorneys in New York to emphasize common compliance problems with advertising disclosures.

Beales said another rule he is interested in and monitoring closely is the Mail Order Rule, which requires merchants to ship orders to buyers within the time stated or, if no time is stated, within 30 days. If unable to do so, the merchant must notify the customer of the delay within the original shipment time and provide a revised shipping date. Sites that promise to ship within 48 hours but find they cannot must notify their customers within that period and give them the option to cancel.

"We will continue to educate businesses about the need to comply with the Mail Order Rule, and to bring enforcement issues where important."

Another priority is privacy, and the agency is focusing on the misuse of information rather than the collection of information. In addition, the FTC's current approach is focused on better enforcement of existing privacy protection, as opposed to the need for general online privacy legislation.

Beales also said he was encouraged by a recent survey of Web site practices by the Progress & Freedom Foundation that showed less than half of Web site surveyed allow third-party cookies, down form 78 percent a year earlier.

Finally, Beales discussed the FTC's proposal for a national do-not-call List, saying "I recognize that the DMA and other organizations have both experienced and valuable insights into the need for, costs, and feasibility of the proposed rule, and have ideas to have the rule work better. I can assure you that we are carefully reviewing all of the comments we have received and we are looking forward to input from the DMA and other industry members at our upcoming workshop in June."

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