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.
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Filed Under: ftc, gag clause, non-disparagement clauses
Companies: roca labs


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2015 @ 1:35pm

    Paging Jack Nicholson...

    ...“Roca Labs had an adversarial relationship with the truth,”...


    You can't handle the truth!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2015 @ 1:40pm

    Amazing. A snake oil seller has problems with being called a snake oil seller. Damned if the truth don't hurt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 29 Sep 2015 @ 4:04pm

    I like the phrase.

    It sounds like an hyperbole, but it is actually an accurate description of the situation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2015 @ 4:50pm

    Slow news day?

    Same FTC filing as the other day. Someone simply found another phrase worth quoting?

    Ah, no, wait. This is about a blog post about the court filing. Much better.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 29 Sep 2015 @ 9:41pm

      Re:

      Since you apparently missed it, the important bit mentioned in this article wasn't the FTC pointing out Roca's habits of lying, it's the fact that they mentioned the gag clause Roca had, something that the FTC hadn't paid nearly enough attention to before.

      Slamming Roca's all well and good, as they've more than earned it, but having the FTC start paying attention to gag clauses, whether Roca's or otherwise is much more important in the long-term.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2015 @ 9:53pm

      Re:

      Slow commenting day?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Sep 2015 @ 9:33pm

    That's gotta sting

    When someone acting as representative of a government agency publicly claims that you/your company has an 'Adversarial relationship with truth'... just ouch. They could have said that Roca had a habit of lying, or being dishonest, but no, they went the extra mile and went with the eloquent burn.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Klaus, 30 Sep 2015 @ 2:04am

      Re: That's gotta sting

      I read Mike's post and thought yay, and then whilst mentally mashing the words of Yamamoto's "a sleeping giant is stirring, filled with resolve" I noticed that the quote "Roca Labs had an adversarial relationship with the truth" was by a Jessica Rich, and then, (obviously) Googled her, and I must say was quite overcome by the results...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 29 Sep 2015 @ 9:52pm

    It's worth mentioning again: it's not just that Roca lies in their advertisements, it's that they legally persecute those that want to tell the truth about Roca's products or their business practices. The latter is the major part of their "adversarial relationship" with the truth.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2015 @ 6:08am

    perhaps it would be a wise move on the part of the FTC to open it's damn eyes and look at more than just ROCA. it knows full well what is going on and which companies are doing the same thing, but because it involves doing some work for a change, instead of just sitting around letting people get ripped off, it ignores it!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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