For the first time in two years, State Attorneys General and their key consumer protection staff have gathered in Washington D.C. to attend the National Association of Attorneys General Fall Consumer Protection conference. For State AG staff in particular, this meeting, and its Spring counterpart, may be the most important and well attended event of the year with over 400 attendees total. Priorities for the Attorneys General are often shaped at these meetings, and they present a unique opportunity for industry to get insight.
The public session included a panel of seven Attorneys General, each of whom spoke in some detail about their goals and frustrations for the upcoming year. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, the incoming president of the National Association of Attorneys General, laid out topics that he is considering for a consumer protection initiative for the upcoming year: Tech Threats and Tools. General Miller wants to see the Attorney General community and industry find better early warning systems for basic frauds – like the grandparent scam and IRS and social security fraud. In addition, he hopes to tackle what he described as the intractable frauds, like telemarketing, where he wants to see new solutions for blocking calls and fraud-induced payments. Finally, he flagged the intersection of big tech and consumer protection, and highlighted the misuse of algorithms as an area the Attorney General community has been, and will continue to be, focused on. Several Attorneys General echoed these concerns, particularly in the area of big tech.
Here are five key takeaways from the panel discussion which will impact State Attorney General enforcement efforts in 2022:
- Big Tech remains a high priority for the State Attorneys General. State Attorneys General will continue to use their state UDAP and antitrust laws to take action against the larger players in the technology space, but will be paying attention to emerging technologies and the consumer protection issues that arise. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser for instance briefly discussed the recently passed Colorado Privacy Act and enforcement under Colorado’s new automatic renewal law, which takes effect next year, both of which will impact the Internet landscape.
- Consumer Protection efforts by the State Attorney General community will remain bipartisan – to a point. Several Attorneys General complimented the bipartisan nature of their relationship in recent initiatives like the Google search antitrust lawsuit, but Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings’ departure from her colleagues in the area of third party bankruptcy releases — particularly for the Sackler family as part of the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy — was notable. This along with recent multistate actions that have been made up of smaller groups of states might signal a shift towards more conflicting action from Attorneys General in the future.
- State Attorneys General want to see multistate actions move quicker. The combination of increasing scams, a lack of resources, and competing interests of municipalities are going to drive Attorneys General to keep the pressure on their staff to move matters. As a result, lengthy investigations may be replaced by faster litigation if the Attorneys General sense a lack of cooperation. Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson described the difficult tension that exists for him due to limited staffing, forcing him to choose between committing resources towards national multistate efforts or local matters that may more directly impact Nebraskans.
- The competing interests of State Attorneys General and local governments will continue to be a point of contention. Many of the Attorneys General including Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery expressed strong opinions about the difficulties in coordinating with the thousands of local governments that are often trying to address the same practices as the Attorney General, and how that overlap results in diminishing the effectiveness and available funds for restitution.
- Old scams may be new again through the use of new technology, but may present an opportunity for more Attorney General and industry partnerships. Attorneys General, including North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, expressed frustration that enforcers are still dealing with basic frauds they have dealt with for decades, but focusing on newer technologies and the new ways we all communicate to change their education and outreach efforts. This presents opportunity for the business community to work with Attorneys General and help promote those efforts, as a public-private alliance will be extremely valuable.