Consumer Enforcement Overview: 2024 NAAG Consumer Protection Spring Conference

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Last week, State Attorneys General (AGs) and staff convened to discuss the hot topics in consumer protection in private and public sessions during the NAAG Consumer Protection Spring Conference.
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Last week, State Attorneys General (AGs) and staff convened to discuss the hot topics in consumer protection in private and public sessions during the NAAG Consumer Protection Spring Conference. The Executive Director of NAAG, Brian Kane, started off the day with a theme that would echo throughout the panels – that businesses should be mindful that their industry may be defined by "the least of" the actors in the space. We provide some of the most relevant insights from the public sessions.

IS IT REAL OR IS IT NOT? A DIVE INTO DEEP FAKES, DARK PRACTICES, AND INDUSTRY'S RESPONSE

In yet another AI-related panel for the year, speakers focused on the potential consumer protection issues that could occur from deepfakes, and how the deepfake technology has grown rapidly even in the last few months. The panelists expressed that they are often concerned more with the distribution channels for AI, referred to as "gatekeepers" and platforms, than with the manufacturers themselves. They gave the example of a large technology platform's efforts to curb AI-generated book publications by limiting uploads to 3 books per day – a solution the panelists found to be inadequate. But the speakers acknowledged that it is not always simple to determine the "right" limits. They also predicted more personalization in advertising through AI. Overall, they emphasized obtaining consent to the use of content and disclosure of the use of AI to address the problem.

AG staff in attendance raised questions such as how to educate consumers about the proper use of AI, whether there are any clear lines for what should not be allowed for AI, and why they need to regulate the industry when scammers won't comply. As a response, the panelists reminded the audience that they need to regulate the "good guys" and then go after the "bad guys" along the way.

PANEL OF ATTORNEYS GENERAL

Attorneys General Ellen Rosenblum of Oregon, Kwame Raoul of Illinois, and Edward Manibusan of the Northern Mariana Islands participated in a panel discussing their experiences with consumer protection issues as AGs. AG Rosenblum explained that we are all consumers, and having a free and fair marketplace is critical to consumers and businesses. AG Raoul discussed that he was often surprised by the extent that consumer protection impacted other areas of the office and how it could also be leveraged, for instance, to curb criminal activity. AG Manibusan noted prices and labeling as being especially important for his constituents given their geographic location.

On the power of the multistate consumer protection investigation, all three AGs agreed banding together for collective efforts is useful and involves compromise, with AG Raoul comparing the process to learning to play well together in a kindergarten sandbox. AG Raoul also emphasized the importance of injunctive relief and discouraged "unreasonable holdouts" from the group dynamic. AG Rosenblum noted that ideally multistate investigations could move faster, but pointed to some of the reasons they may not, including the complexity of the cases and the amount of documents to review. AG Rosenblum also mentioned that AGs are usually willing to take meetings, but it is important that they still communicate with staff to avoid "going behind their back."

SOCIAL MEDIA LEGISLATION- A DISCUSSION OF EXISTING, PENDING, AND FUTURE LEGISLATION

Representatives from the AG offices of Minnesota, Arkansas, Utah, and New York presented on some of the latest social media laws that are pending or passed, and how they are working to overcome challenges. Many of these laws would require companies provide certain default privacy settings and parental controls for teens. The industry representative on the panel described the challenges in complying with these types of laws because of the variety of content on platforms, and free speech and access to information concerns. Furthermore, asking for certain age verification requires more collection of personal information, which could raise concerns both for privacy advocates and consumers wary of handing over their data.

When the panelists were asked why social media legislation is needed in addition to their existing UDAP laws, the states explained that UDAP laws work on a fact-specific level but where there is an industrywide problem, they need to level the playing field. For example, one bad company can ruin things for everyone. Additionally, panelists said these statutes help provide additional information to parents and encourage parental involvement.

OTHER PANELS

On the FTC Rulemaking session, Tom Dahdouh of the FTC described the agency's recent rulemaking efforts. He described the importance of having a great relationship with State AG offices as "vital" to the agency as a result of the AMG decision. The FTC cannot get redress in many instances, but states can. Dahdouh pointed to the recent FTC Collaboration Report and the 33 joint actions with states and local DAs since 2020. He also described the need for rulemakings as a reaction to AMG.

In the State Privacy session, representatives from California, Colorado, and Indiana described the similarities and differences between their comprehensive privacy laws and the authority and makeups of their enforcement teams.

CONCLUSION

NAAG hosts two consumer protection conferences a year. These are good events to learn about issues important to attorneys general across the country, which can be helpful for the business community. Moreover, these events are great opportunities to hear from and interact with consumer protection staff, who are often driving the enforcement initiatives at AG offices. It is important to connect with AGs and staff alike to stay on top of office priorities.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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