This is the second of a regular series of posts that summarize and wrap up our latest thoughts that have appeared recently on Ifrah Law’s two blogs.
1. Is D.C. on the Way to Legalizing Online Poker?
On February 2, we were among the first media outlets to point out that a little-noticed amendment could give D.C. residents the legal right to play online poker through a new system administered by the D.C. Lottery. This would put the District, surprisingly, in the forefront of the movement to legalize Internet poker. It’s an issue that a lot of people will be watching.
2. New DOJ Unit Will Keep Eye on Prosecutors’ Misconduct
The Department of Justice’s new Professional Misconduct Review Unit was created to investigate and punish instances of misconduct by DOJ attorneys. Our post examines this new unit and concludes that the DOJ has a long way to go to restore full public confidence.
3. Those iPad Hackers Were Probably Seeking Publicity, Not Profit
What was the story behind the two iPad hackers who obtained the personal data of approximately 120,000 iPad users by exploiting a security weakness in AT&T’s software? They’re now facing potential jail time, but we concluded that they were probably just trying to show where the weaknesses were in the software, not to profit from the data that they got hold of.
4. Is This Domain Name Seizure a Bad Omen for Internet Freedom?
Recently, a U.S. magistrate seized 10 websites that prosecutors say were streaming live sports events in violation of copyright. We were concerned that prosecutors might soon go too far in these efforts and try to ask for the seizure of any domain or website that they just find objectionable.
5. Facebook Friends and Judicial Ethics
We looked at an Ohio state board’s ruling that a judge may become a Facebook “friend” of an attorney as long as the judge takes care to protect the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. This decision is one indication that states are looking to impose content-based restrictions regarding Internet use and social media, rather than broad prohibitions on the use of an entire website.
6. Middlemen Run Afoul of FTC Suspicions
We took a look at a recent case that the Federal Trade Commission settled with three companies that had advertised to consumers that they would provide debt relief services, while in fact they simply were middlemen who put people in touch with others who were in the business of debt relief. Our post examines why FTC actions like this one can prevent middlemen from entering a market and can actually be harmful to consumers.
7. FTC Looks at Football Helmet Safety Claims
In view of the growing concern over concussions in the NFL, we took a look at safety claims for football helmets. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) asked the FTC to look into claims made by helmet manufacturers. We discussed what might be at stake for the companies and for young football players.
8. FTC Cracks Down on Bogus Virus-Removal Software
The FTC recently took action against companies that placed online advertisements falsely stating that users’ computers are infected with viruses – and then sold them bogus security software. We noted that cases like this can serve as a reminder that the FTC is likely to target sellers who blatantly cloak their advertisements in deceptive fear tactics.
9. Wu Appointment May Mean More Regulation to Come
We believe the FTC’s recent appointment of Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu as a member of the FTC’s Office of Policy Planning could be a harbinger of more market-stifling regulation to come, and we urged that the FTC should stick to protecting consumers and not to look to fix things that aren’t broken.
10. Chargebacks Can Be a Major Problem for Small Businesses
In this post, a follow-on to a Wall Street Journal article that identified chargebacks as a major problem for small businesses, we noted that credit card companies often take the side of the purchaser in reversing a charge and that it can often take a long time for a merchant to be re-credited with a sale. We expressed hope that consumers would realize that their actions can harm merchants that often can’t afford these losses and that they would think twice before requesting a chargeback.
Helmet safety has caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which is looking into marketing claims that some football helmets can help reduce concussions. Recent months have seen widespread publicity about concussions and other traumatic head and neck injuries suffered by football players, prompting the National Football League to step up enforcement of rules against illegal hits. Pressure on the FTC to investigate possibly deceptive and misleading safety claims increased last month when Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) sent a letter to the FTC chairman claiming that advertisements by two prominent helmet manufacturers could violate the FTC Act.
In his letter to the FTC, Udall specifically cited Riddell, a leading helmet manufacturer that supplies the official helmet to the NFL, for the prominent claim on its website that its popular Revolution models decrease concussion risk by 31 percent. This figure has long been criticized because new Revolution helmets had been compared with used helmets of unknown age and condition. Udall claims that “there is actually very little scientific evidence” to support the claim that “research shows a 31 percent reduction in the risk of concussion in players wearing a Riddell Revolution football helmet when compared to traditional helmets.” According to Udall, the voluntary industry standard for football helmets does not specifically address concussion prevention or reduction.
Last fall, Udall asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission to investigate helmet safety. Now, Udall has raised his concerns with the FTC, which is looking into possible actions regarding safety claims against helmet manufacturers. Riddell called the allegations “unfounded and unfair.” The company also claimed that, while its research on reducing concussions was encouraging, “we can’t stress enough that no helmet will prevent all concussions.”
A spokesperson for the FTC has stated that the commission could decide to launch an investigation but would not confirm or deny one until it either closed the investigation without bringing charges or announced it would bring charges of deceptive advertising against the helmet companies. If an investigation is launched, the FTC will likely examine whether the helmet safety claims comply with the FTC’s policy statement on advertising substantiation, which states: “The Commission intends to continue vigorous enforcement of this existing legal requirement that advertisers substantiate express and implied claims, however conveyed, that make objective asserts about the item or service advertised.” In other words, the FTC warns manufacturers and advertisers against making claims about a product that would require proof that the manufacturer or advertiser does not have.
There is a lot at stake if the government intervenes in the helmet business. In addition to the personal safety concerns for young football players — which the letter to the FTC lists as a paramount concern — football helmet sales represent big business. Helmets can range from $150 to $400. With a reported 4.4 million players under the age of 18 alone, this can mean big bucks for the helmet companies. It is unlikely that sales of helmets will be significantly affected by an FTC investigation, but helmet companies may be faced with the added costs of research and development necessary to substantiate claims of helmet safety.