In an increasing trend, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) joined other federal regulators seeking to hold individuals – not just companies – liable in enforcement proceedings. The most recent target was San Francisco-based UrthBox, Inc. and its principal, Behnam Behrouzi. Specifically, Urthbox and Behrouzi agreed to settle FTC allegations that UrthBox engaged in unfair or deceptive acts or practices by: (1) failing to adequately disclose key terms of its “free trial” automatic renewal programs, and (2) misrepresenting that customer reviews were independent when, in fact, UrthBox provided customers with free products and other incentives to post positive reviews online.
Shortly after the new year, the Federal Trade Commission filed suit in the Northern District of California against D-Link Corporation, a Taiwan-based maker of wireless routers, Internet Protocol (IP) cameras, and software used in consumer electronics (such as baby monitors). The complaint alleges that D-Link failed to reasonably secure its products from hackers. Notably, the FTC has not alleged that D‑Link products were exploited by hackers or that a data breach or cyberattack resulted from any alleged security vulnerabilities. Rather, the action is based squarely on security vulnerabilities that “potentially compromis[ed] sensitive consumer information, including live video and audio feeds from D-Link IP cameras” and marketing statements made by D-Link that touted the products’ security features.
Last week, fashion retailer Lord & Taylor reached a settlement with the FTC over its allegedly deceptive advertising campaign, the first such action since the FTC released its Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Advertisements and its companion guidance, Native Advertising: A Guide for Businesses, in December 2015. Native Advertising is clearly on the FTC’s 2016 enforcement agenda.
Following the Third Circuit’s ruling upholding the FTC’s authority to regulate unfair and deceptive cybersecurity practices under Section 5 of the FTC Act, Wyndham Worldwide Corporation and the FTC have agreed to settle. This marks the end to a hotly-contested and closely-watched case at the cross-roads of data security and regulatory enforcement.
As reported in our previous posts on this topic, Wyndham experienced three breaches of its systems in 2008 and 2009 resulting in the exposure of approximately 619,000 consumers’ credit card numbers. The FTC initiated an enforcement action in 2012 alleging that Wyndham engaged in unfair and deceptive cybersecurity practices in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. The FTC asserted that Wyndham’s cybersecurity practices were deficient in myriad ways that placed consumer data at risk of theft, for example, by storing payment card information in clear text, using weak and default passwords across networks, failing to install or misconfiguring firewalls, failing to adequately restrict vendor access to corporate networks, and failing to follow appropriate incident response procedures after successive cyberattacks.
In Part I, we discussed the Third Circuit’s finding that the “unfair” prong of the FTC Act does not require the agency to provide specific cybersecurity standards with “ascertainable certainty” to which companies must conform. In Part II, we discuss the interplay between the FTC’s prohibition on “deceptive” acts and unfair cybersecurity practices.