With much fanfare, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) continues to take actions relating to so-called “social media influencers” who allegedly fail to disclose material connections to the products or brands they endorse. Recurring enforcement actions and guidance—and the FTC’s ongoing promotion of its own efforts, such as through Twitter chats—make it clear that the FTC believes that its message has still not been heard by all of the players in this advertising ecosystem, including influencers themselves.

In short, any endorsements in any medium where the endorser has a material connection of any kind to the endorsed advertiser must be disclosed.

The most recent developments include an enforcement action against a company—and two of its officers—in connection with endorsements of the company made by the officers in YouTube videos and in social media.  Before turning to this case, however, we provide a brief overview of how the FTC has gotten here.
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Recent challenges to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) authority to police data security practices have criticized the agency’s failure to provide adequate guidance to companies.

In other words, the criticism goes, businesses do not know what they need to do to avoid a charge that their data security programs fall short of the law’s requirements.

A series of blog posts that the FTC began on July 21, 2017, titled “Stick with Security,” follows promises from acting Chair Maureen Ohlhausen to provide more transparency about practices that contribute to reasonable data security. Some of the posts provide insight into specific data security practices that businesses should take, while others merely suggest what, in general, the FTC sees as essential to a comprehensive data security program.
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As Socially Aware readers know, privacy and data security issues are among the most critical legal issues confronting companies that do business online. With ransomware attacks and hacking incidents on the rise, and with privacy and data security laws becoming increasingly burdensome, companies are spending more time and resources than ever before addressing privacy and

On June 22, 2017, the German Parliament passed a bill that, among other things, awards extensive surveillance powers to law enforcement authorities. The new law, once in force, will allow law enforcement to covertly install software on end user devices allowing the interception of ongoing communications via Internet services such as WhatsApp or Skype. These new measures may be used for investigating a wide array of crimes (the “Catalog Crimes”), which are classified as “severe” but range from murder to sports betting fraud to everything in between.

Today, the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) is only allowed to engage in similar activities to prevent international terrorism. All other law enforcement authorities are only allowed to intercept regular text messages and listen to phone conversations in cases of Catalog Crimes. However, these investigators are currently fighting a losing battle against end-to-end encrypted Internet services. With respect to such services, the current legal framework only allows for access via the respective telecom operators. These operators, however, can only provide law enforcement with the encrypted communications streams. By introducing the new law, the German government now aims to prevent “legal vacuums” allegedly resulting from this surveillance gap.
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Live Webinar: June 6, 2017 at 12:00 PM (ET) / 9:00 AM (PT)

The May 2018 compliance deadline for the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is fast approaching and—with non-compliance penalties of up to €20 million or 4% of annual global turnover at stake—you cannot afford to miss the deadline.

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In the most recent edition of his CyberSide Chat series, Socially Aware contributor Andy Serwin discusses ransomware attacks, including:

  • the reasons why ransomware attacks are becoming more common;
  • the types of ransomware attacks companies should prepare to address; and
  • the strategies that companies can employ to help guard against, and to help mitigate the damage

GettyImages-538899668-600pxWith corporate data security breaches on the rise, the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) has adopted rules requiring financial institutions to take certain measures to safeguard their data and inform state regulators about cybersecurity incidents. Intended to thwart future cyberattacks and protect consumers, those “Cybersecurity Requirements for Financial Services Companies” (the “Cybersecurity Rule” or “Rule”) finally took effect on March 1, 2017. The NYDFS has released guidance on how to follow the Rule, it comes in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQs) and a summary of key compliance dates. Although the guidance is apparently intended to assist covered financial institutions as the clock ticks towards the first of the Rule’s phased compliance deadlines less than six months away, the guidance is unlikely to make the implementation challenges many financial institutions will face any less daunting.

The Cybersecurity Rule requires that covered financial institutions, among other things, adopt detailed programs, policies and procedures to protect Information Systems (which are defined to include essentially any computer or networked electronic system) and certain sensitive business and consumer information (“Nonpublic Information”) from cybersecurity threats.

The Rule is narrower and less prescriptive than the original proposal from September 2016 (and largely the same as the second proposal from December 2016). Nonetheless, covered financial institutions now have less than six months to establish compliance with the first of the Cybersecurity Rule’s requirements. This means covered financial institutions will quickly need to: (1) assess the current state of their information security programs and what modifications may be required based on the specific policies and controls required by the Rule; and (2) consider the new processes that may need to be created to meet the Rule’s reporting, recordkeeping and certification requirements.
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In the most recent edition of his CyberSide Chat series, Socially Aware contributor Andy Serwin discusses emerging cybersecurity issues including:

  • The need to strike a balance between the efficiencies of the Internet of Things and the increased cyberattack vulnerability that usually goes along with using extra devices;
  • The pre- and post-cyber-breach steps a company can

BigBrotherEye-GettyImages-149355675-600pxIf your company collects information regarding consumers though Internet-connected devices, you will want to take note of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) recent privacy-related settlement (brought in conjunction with the New Jersey Attorney General) with smart TV manufacturer Vizio, Inc. The settlement is significant for four reasons:

  • The FTC reinforces the position it has taken in other actions that the collection and use of information in a way that would surprise the consumer requires just-in-time notice and choice in order to avoid a charge of deception and/or unfairness under Section 5 of the FTC Act.
  • The FTC takes the position that television viewing activity constitutes sensitive data. This marks a departure from its approach of limiting sensitive data to information that, for example, can facilitate identity theft, precisely locate an individual, is collected online from young children or relates to matters generally considered delicate (such as health information).
  • The settlement includes a payment of $1.5 million to the FTC (as well as payment of civil penalties to New Jersey), but the legal basis for the FTC payment is not stated. This could suggest that the FTC will more aggressively seek to obtain injunctive monetary relief in Section 5 cases.
  • Acting Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen explicitly noted in a concurring statement her skepticism regarding both the allegation that TV viewing data is “sensitive” and that the FTC’s complaint adequately established that the practices at issue constitute “substantial injury” under the unfairness prong of Section 5.

Leaving aside what the chairwoman’s concurrence may portend for future enforcement efforts, the FTC again seems to be using allegedly bad facts about privacy practices to push the envelope of its authority. Accordingly, with the Internet of Things boom fueling a dramatic increase in the number of Internet-connected devices, companies that either collect information via such devices or make use of such collected information should consider the implications of this enforcement action.


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Gradient and transparent effect used.

In a major development for cloud and other data storage providers, and further complicating the legal landscape for the cross-border handling of data, a Federal Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled for the Department of Justice and ordered Google, Inc., to comply with two search warrants for foreign-stored user data. The order was issued on February 3, 2017 pursuant to the Stored Communications Act, (SCA), and the reasoning of the Court rested heavily on the court’s statutory analysis of the SCA. The ruling is a marked departure from a recent, high-profile Second Circuit decision holding that Microsoft could refuse to comply with a similar court order for user data stored overseas.

The SCA regulates how service providers like Google and Microsoft who store user data can disclose user information. The Magistrate Judge issued two warrants under the SCA for emails sent from Google users in the United States to recipients in the United States. Google refused to fully comply, invoking Microsoft, and the Government moved to compel. In its briefing, Google argued that the SCA can only reach data stored in the United States and that, because Google constantly shuffles “shards” of incomplete user data between its servers across the world, Google could never know for certain what information is stored domestically and what is stored overseas. Therefore, Google argued, the data sought under the warrants was beyond the reach of the SCA.
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