After a four-year tenure marked by an increased focus on privacy and aggressive consumer protection, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz announced on February 1 that he is stepping down later this month.
“I don’t have any regrets,” Leibowitz said in a conference call with reporters. “I like to think we have made America in a small way a better place to live and helped ensure an even playing field for businesses.”
Fittingly, he capped off his departure — “before I go off into the sunset,” as he put it — by announcing two significant privacy actions. The FTC settled a case for $800,000 with the operator of the Path social-networking app for improperly collecting personal information, and agency staff released a detailed report recommending ways to improve data and privacy practices in the mobile marketplace.Path is not the first social-networking service to come under FTC fire — the agency under Leibowitz also went after Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and MySpace for violating privacy promises to consumers. Google Inc. also agreed to pay a record $22.5 million civil penalty in August 2012 to settle charges that it misrepresented its privacy policies to users of Apple’s Safari Internet browser.
However, the FTC’s much hyped antitrust investigation of Google’s dominance in the search market came to an anti-climactic end on January 3, when the agency announced it had closed its inquiry. The FTC required Google to license patents that are essential to the interoperability of electronic devices but secured only minimal agreements related to Google’s search business.Overall, the FTC under Leibowitz, who is leaving the agency February 15, filed 257 consumer-protection cases in federal courts and 78 administrative cases, winning almost $260 million in consumer redress. Notable cases include a $40 million settlement with Skechers USA Inc. for making unsubstantiated claims that its shoes would strengthen and tone muscles, and cracking down on juice maker POM Wonderful LLC for claiming pomegranate juice could help prevent and treat diseases.
On the antitrust side, the FTC under Leibowitz challenged 81 mergers, leading to 51 consent orders, 12 administrative complaints and 18 mergers that were abandoned.
Michael Keeley, an antitrust partner at Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider, said Leibowitz will be remembered for his focus on so-called pay-for-delay deals between brand-name and generic drug makers.
“He continued to pursue this in the courts even though the FTC lost over and over again, until he succeeded in obtaining a circuit split,” said Keeley, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the FTC’s case next month. “I found his persistence notable in keeping the issue alive in courts and Congress.”
Jones Day antitrust head David Wales agreed that Leibowitz will be remembered for his “unwavering assault” on pay-for-delay. He continued, “Some have criticized Jon for too much horse-trading and compromising antitrust principles in big matters, but having worked with Jon for several years, I know he always followed his internal moral compass and tried to do what he thought was the right thing,” Wales said.
Leibowitz has not announced his future plans, although antitrust lawyers predict he will wind up at a law firm in Washington. With his departure from the FTC imminent, he said he was “feeling a little wistful. These jobs are exhilarating and also a little exhausting, so probably it’s a good time for me to move on.”
Jenna Greene can be reached at email@example.com.