Retailers Ask FTC to Investigate Credit Card Industry’s PCI Security Group for Antitrust Concerns

WASHINGTON – The National Retail Federation today announced that it has asked the Federal Trade Commission to conduct an investigation into an organization founded by the credit card industry that sets data security standards, saying the group’s controversial practices raise antitrust concerns.

“We urge the FTC not to rely on PCI DSS for any purpose, particularly not as an example of industry best practices nor as a benchmark in determining what may constitute responsible data security standards in the payment system or any other sector,” NRF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Mallory Duncan said in a letter to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez and other commission members.

The Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council is “a proprietary organization formed and controlled by a single industry sector – the major credit card networks” and “fails to meet any of the principles adopted by the federal government for voluntary standard-setting organizations,” Duncan said. “We believe you will conclude PCI itself is an inappropriate exercise of market power by the dominant U.S. payment card networks and PCI should not continue setting data security standards through its current processes.”

NRF’s request comes as the FTC is conducting an inquiry into how third-party companies perform assessments of PCI compliance by retailers and other businesses that accept credit cards. NRF understands that the FTC is also considering PCI requirements as an example of industry best practices.

The PCI council was formed in 2006 by the major credit card companies – Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover and JCB. It imposes its rules on millions of U.S. businesses but continues to be governed by an executive committee made up of representatives of only those five companies.

In a 19-page white paper submitted to the FTC, NRF said the card companies use their market power to “unfairly leverage their brands and proprietary technology through webs of closely controlled interdependent bodies and compliance regimes” including the council. While portrayed as voluntary, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard requirements set by the council are “forced upon businesses that cannot refuse to accept credit and debit cards.”

The council’s practices “raise antitrust concerns” for a number of reasons, including “general antitrust dangers when competitors collaborate on setting market standards” and “more targeted concerns insofar as they allow the networks to leverage their proprietary technology,” the paper said.

Among other concerns, PCI requirements act as “as an anticompetitive barrier to innovation” because they “exhaust” funds and other resources retailers have available for data security, the paper said.

NRF asked that the FTC investigate the council’s practices in general and particularly their impact on competition. The FTC should also reject government use of PCI standards as any benchmark for data security, and instead work with “legitimate U.S. standard setting bodies” such as the American National Standards Institute, NRF said.

NRF is the world’s largest retail trade association, representing discount and department stores, home goods and specialty stores, Main Street merchants, grocers, wholesalers, chain restaurants and Internet retailers from the United States and more than 45 countries. Retail is the nation’s largest private sector employer, supporting one in four U.S. jobs – 42 million working Americans. Contributing $2.6 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation’s economy. NRF’s This is Retail campaign highlights the industry’s opportunities for life-long careers, how retailers strengthen communities, and the critical role that retail plays in driving innovation.