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Paul Zimmerman

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A Formula for Trouble: New York AG Settles With Abbott Labs Over Misleading Surveys

Abbott Labs, the maker of Similac infant formula, found itself in some hot water after sending misleading marketing surveys to new parents. The surveys, ostensibly sent by the “National Institute of Infant Nutrition,” sought information about the recipients’ demographics and their infants’ feeding habits. In terms of the latter, the survey asked, whether or not babies had been breast-fed and, if formula-fed, the brand of formula parents used. The problem is that when the surveys were sent, there was no known entity named the “National Institute of Infant Nutrition (NIIN),” and Abbott used the survey information for its own marketing purposes.

Enter the New York Attorney General’s office, which investigated the situation and discovered that between March 2015 and April 2017, Abbott delivered more than 200,000 of these misleading surveys, accompanied by a letter from an individual identified as the “Research Director” of the NIIN, which letter suggested that the institute conducted monthly surveys to understand infant nutrition. It went on to urge consumers to complete the survey to help with “important research.”

Once the AG’s investigation was commenced, Abbott agreed to stop using the pretext of the NIIN or its logo on its surveys. In addition, under its settlement with the AG, Abbott, going forward, is required to accurately disclose the purpose for which survey information is sought, and it is prohibited from falsely representing that surveys are being conducted for scientific study. There is more. The settlement also requires Abbott to pay $50,000 in costs and disclose at the top of any survey either its name or the name of any third-party conducting market research on its behalf.

For her part, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood made clear that her office “will not allow any business to mislead New Yorkers into sharing private information under false pretenses.” All consumer-facing companies are encouraged to heed this warning.

This blog post is not offered as, and should not be relied on as, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.