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Microsoft Corporation; Analysis To Aid Public Comment

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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This document has been published in the Federal Register. Use the PDF linked in the document sidebar for the official electronic format.

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AGENCY:

Federal Trade Commission.

ACTION:

Proposed consent agreement.

SUMMARY:

The consent agreement in this matter settles alleged violations of federal law prohibiting unfair or deceptive acts or practices or unfair methods of competition. The attached Analysis to Aid Public Comment describes both the allegations in the complaint that accompanies the consent agreement and the terms of the consent order—embodied in the consent agreement—that would settle these allegations.

DATES:

Comments must be received on or before May 3, 2001.

ADDRESSES:

Comments should be directed to: FTC/Office of the Secretary, Room 159, 600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW., Washington, DC 20580.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Michael Ostheimer, FTC/S-4002, 600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW., Washington, DC 20580 (202) 326-2699.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Pursuant to section 6(f) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 38 Stat. 721, 15 U.S.C. 46 and section 2.34 of the Commission's Rules of Practice (16 CFR 2.34), notice is hereby given that the above-captioned consent agreement containing a consent order to cease and desist, having been filed with and accepted by the Commission, has been placed on the public record for a period of thirty (30) days. The following Analysis to Aid Public Comment describes the terms of the consent agreement, and the Start Printed Page 18640allegations in the complaint. An electronic copy of the full text of the consent agreement package can be obtained from the FTC Home Page (for April 3, 2001), on the World Wide Web, http://www.ftc.gov/​os/​2001/​04/​index.htm. A paper copy can be obtained from the FTC Public Reference Room, Room H-130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20580, either in person or by calling (202) 326-3627.

Public comment is invited. Comments should be directed to: FTC/Office of the Secretary, Room 159, 600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW., Washington, DC 20580. Two paper copies of each comment should be filed, and should be accompanied, if possible, by a 31/2 inch diskette containing an electronic copy of the comment. Such comments or views will be considered by the Commission and will be available for inspection and copying at its principal office in accordance with section 4.9(b)(6)(ii) of the Commission's Rules of Practice (16 CFR 4.9(b)(6)(ii)).

Analysis of Proposed Consent Order To Aid Public Comment

The Federal Trade Commission has accepted, subject to final approval, an agreement containing a consent order from Microsoft Corporation (“Microsoft”).

The proposed consent order has been placed on the public record for thirty (30) days for receipt of comments by interested persons. Comments received during this period will become part of the public record. After thirty (30) days, the Commission will again review the agreement and the comments received, and will decide whether it should withdraw from the agreement or make final the agreement's proposed order.

This matter involves alleged misleading representations about Pocket PC handheld computers (“Pocket PCs”)—personal digital assistants (“PDAs”) which feature Microsoft's Windows CE operating system, including Hewlett-Packard Company's Jornada Pocket PC and Compaq Computer Corp.'s Pocket PC. This matter concerns allegedly false and deceptive advertising claims made in advertisements regarding the ability of Pocket PCs to access the Internet and email accounts.

According to the FTC complaint, Microsoft falsely claimed that Pocket PCs contain everything that consumers need to access the Internet and their email accounts, at anytime and from anywhere. In fact, in order to access the Internet and their email accounts using Pocket PCs, when away from their computers (“remotely”), consumers must purchase and carry a separate modem or similar device that in most cases must be connected to a land telephone line or a mobile telephone; and moreover, many mobile telephones currently in use in the United States are not compatible with Pocket PCs. The complaint also alleges that in representing that consumers can use Pocket PCs to access the Internet and their email accounts, at anytime and from anywhere, Microsoft failed to disclose or failed to disclose adequately that in order to access remotely the Internet and their email accounts, consumers must purchase and carry a separate modem or similar device. The complaint alleges that the failure to disclose this material fact is a deceptive practice.

The proposed consent order contains provisions designed to prevent Microsoft from engaging in similar acts and practices in the future. Specifically, Parts I and II address representations regrading any PDA or handheld Internet or email access device that requires the use of an additional device or connection to a telephone land line in order to access the Internet or email accounts remotely (“covered devices”).

Part I of the proposed order prohibits Microsoft from making any misrepresentations about the ability of any covered device to access the Internet or email accounts, or about any performance characteristic of any covered device affecting access to the Internet or email accounts.

Part II of the proposed order prohibits Microsoft from making any representation about the ability of any covered device to access the Internet or email accounts unless Microsoft discloses, clearly and conspicuously, any other products (such as a modem, mobile telephone, or adapter) or Internet or email access services (other than general-purpose ISP service, as defined in the order) that consumers must purchase in order to access the Internet or email accounts.

Parts III through VI of the order require Microsoft to keep copies of relevant advertisements and materials substantiating claims made in the advertisements, to provide copies of the order to certain of its personnel, to notify the commission of changes in corporate structure, and to file compliance reports with the Commission. Part VII provides that the order will terminate after twenty (20) years under certain circumstances.

The purpose of this analysis is to facilitate public comment on the proposed order, and it is not intended to constitute an official interpretation of the agreement and proposed order or to modify in any way their terms.

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By direction of the Commission.

Donald S. Clark,

Secretary.

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Concurring Statement of Commissioner Orson Swindle

I voted to accept both of these consent agreements for public comment, because the proposed consent orders are adequate relief for the violations alleged in the complaint. Nonetheless, I have strong reservations about the use of unenforceable “voluntary” consumer education. In each of these cases, staff negotiated with the proposed respondent to achieve a consumer education campaign that is being undertaken wholly outside the confines of the order. Consumer education remedies sometimes pose difficult issues and Commissioners may disagree as to whether a particular consumer education remedy is appropriate and reasonably related to the complaint allegations. Yet the solution for such disagreements is not simply to excise such remedies from the legally enforceable obligations that respondents are undertaking in settlement. If consumer education is important enough to include in negotiations, there likely is some impact on what is achieved in negotiating the terms of the consent order itself. Moreover, to the extent that the FTC promotes such “voluntary” consumer education initiatives in our efforts to publicize the consent agreements, we may see many more deep-pocketed respondents seeking to add a bit of “voluntary” and unenforceable consumer education to a broader promotional campaign in exchange for a weaker order than might otherwise be negotiated.

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[FR Doc. 01-8709 Filed 4-9-01; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 6750-01-M