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The story is largely a profile of FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection chief David Vladeck and just one of his many successful efforts to upgrade and restore the FTC's status as a top consumer cop. The FTC's will to fight had weakened through the first decade of this century, when it let violations by powerful special interests slide and focused on dime store fraudsters. The story examines FTC's campaign to make yogurt makers like Dannon, athletic shoe makers including Skechers and Reebok, cereal makers (no, Kellogg's Mini-Wheats are actually not “clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by nearly 20%”), acai berry promoters ("one trick of the tiny belly"), other drinkable patent nostrum sellers including Nestle, and other companies to either tell the truth about their health claims or pay big monetary penalties.
One clue -- even though many of these firms are well-known trusted historic brands, they are often fronted by B-list actors or reality show celebrity shills.
“We try to restore the consumer’s position before the deceptive ad,” says Vladeck. “We wanted to deprive companies of their profits. We don’t want them to profit from misleading the public.” Requiring full refunds for consumers surprised national advertisers because it was a remedy usually reserved for extreme cases and outright fraud. In the past, the FTC simply required companies to stop making dubious claims but did not require full restitution.
Vladeck has also played a key role in the FTC's recent privacy protection and other law enforcement efforts. At the end of the year, the longtime consumer champion and longtime litigator/director over at Public Citizen heads back to his Georgetown Law professorship.
Hat tip to his former colleague, Allison Zieve, over at Public Citizen Law and Policy blog.
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