FTC: 'Roca Labs Has An Adversarial Relationship With The Truth'; Suggests Plans To Crack Down On More Gag Clauses
from the good-news dept
Roca Labs threatened to sue us here at Techdirt twice for publishing accurate articles about the company, its sketchy practices and legal threats — and especially for its ridiculous “gag clause” that told customers they could never say disparaging things about the product online. Among other things, Roca Labs threatened others for claiming its products were “snake oil” and us for merely repeating statements that were in court filings. So we were certainly pleased last week when the FTC finally took Roca Labs to court, for both deceptive and misleading advertising and over the gag clause itself.
On Monday, the FTC put out a blog post about this where it went into more detail about why it was targeting Roca Labs:
?Roca Labs had an adversarial relationship with the truth,? said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC?s Bureau of Consumer Protection. ?Not only did they make false or unsubstantiated weight-loss claims, they also attempted to intimidate their own customers from sharing truthful ? and truly negative ? reviews of their products.?
I can’t wait to see Roca Labs’ “Independent General Counsel” Paul Berger now try to threaten the FTC with one of his standard “You’re defaming us!” letters.
In the meantime, though, there is a more important element in all of this, which is that this is the first time we’ve seen the FTC go after these gag clauses. We’ve been writing about such gag clauses for many years, going back to a dentist who billed someone $100 per day for a negative review. Then there was the infamous KlearGear case, where the online retailer demanded $3,500 for a negative review (from a non-customer!).
A year ago, we had a post highlighting a bunch of these kinds of gag clauses from a variety of different companies. California passed a state law outlawing such non-disparagement clauses, and a federal bill was introduced earlier this year — though it has gone nowhere.
But the fact that the FTC directly called out the practice suggests that, while we wait for Congress to get its act together, the FTC may be willing to go after the more egregious providers of such clauses.
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.
A full law would be nice to have, but in the meantime, having the FTC step in seems like a useful tool to stop these gag clauses from silencing consumers.