This article deals with the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) efforts to apply consumer protection statutes to on-line activity. The article describes the role of the FTC and explains how it operates. It also discusses the applicability of the Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule, the Fair Credit Billing Act and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act to on-line commerce. Lastly, it describes and examines Section 5 of the FTC Act, which prohibits unfair and deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce. This article also examines recent cases that involved on-line crimes, as well as "sweeps" that the FTC regularly executes with states and other federal authorities, to attack law violations. It also discusses the FTC's attempt to prevent pyramid schemes on the Internet, and the FTC's pursuit of cases in which the Internet was simply the media used for advertising. Non-regulatory methods of protecting consumers are also discussed. The FTC's relationships with consumer and business education campaigns as well as private businesses or consumer organizations are addressed. This article also discusses the use of Internet technology to inform consumers on how to protect themselves. The FTC's examination of on-line marketing is also discussed in this article. In particular, it discusses the implications of electronic commerce for consumer privacy. It analyzes past privacy workshops as well as future privacy workshops that the FTC is arranging to gather information about unsolicited commercial e-mail. Lastly, this article deals with enforcement issues that are raised by the Internet. It examines what is known as the "asterisk issue," as well as what is known as "spamming." This article concludes that a multi-faceted approach that relies on consumer education and self-regulation, along with the help of the FTC, to prevent fraudulent and deceptive practices without burdening on-line commerce is the best method of regulation.
Roscoe B. Starek, III & Lynda M. Rozell, The Federal Trade Commission's Commitment to On-Line Consumer Protection, 15 J. Marshall J. Computer & Info. L. 679 (1997)