The FTC announced yesterday that it sued weight-loss company Roca Labs in federal court in Florida for making unsubstantiated claims about its products then trying to silence critics using a non-disparagement clause followed up by threats (a subject we've covered numerous times on this blog, see, e.g., here and here). The FTC's press statement explains:
In a complaint filed in federal court, the FTC alleges that Roca Labs, Inc.; Roca Labs Nutraceutical USA, Inc.; and their principals have sued and threatened to sue consumers who shared their negative experiences online or complained to the Better Business Bureau, stating that the consumers violated the non-disparagement provisions of the “Terms and Conditions” they supposedly agreed to when they bought the products. The FTC alleges that these gag clause provisions, and the defendants’ related warnings, threats, and lawsuits, harm consumers by unfairly barring purchasers from sharing truthful, negative comments about the defendants and their products….
According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants advertised their weight-loss products, Roca Labs “Formula” and “Anti-Cravings” powder, via the Internet and through online search and social media advertising such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Facebook. The defendants represented their products as safe and effective alternatives to gastric bypass surgery. They also claimed that users could lose as much as 21 pounds in one month, and that users have a 90 percent success rate in achieving substantial weight loss.
This is the first FTC action I'm aware of involving a non-disparagement clause; it's encouraging to see federal enforcement to protect consumers' ability to criticize businesses and to receive information and opinion from other consumers. (Let's hope Congress gets in the game too and passes the bipartisan Consumer Review Freedom Act.)