Tech

FTC slaps Razer with $1 million fine over misleading COVID mask ads

razer zephyr maskImage: Razer

The year is 2021. With the COVID-19 pandemic still very much in swing and vaccine rollouts still limited to those most at risk, Razer sees an opportunity: bring its stylish RGB aesthetic to the face masks that most people are still wearing in public. It was a cool idea that, three years later, has the company in hot water with US regulators.

The problem stems from the fact that Razer advertised its Zephyr mask, which had built-in RGB lights, circulation fans, and a transparent front panel to let others see the wearer’s mouth, as “N95-grade.” Turns out you can’t just throw that N95 term around, even in the relatively loosey-goosey world of American medicine. The Federal Trade Commission investigated Razer for misrepresenting the Zephyr mask’s capabilities and concluded its findings yesterday.

At issue is the fact that Razer never actually submitted the mask or its built-in, replaceable filters for testing or certification for the N95 label, which indicates that a respirator can block 95 percent of particulates. Neither the FDA nor the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health were contacted for their respective seals of approval — Razer seems to have thought that simply calling the mask “N95-grade” without doing the paperwork would be enough.

The FTC disagrees with a unanimous 3-0 ruling. While Razer quickly removed the N95 language from its advertising during its initial sales after some negative press, the investigation in response to a Department of Justice complaint found Razer liable for misrepresenting the mask as both equivalent to an N95 respirator mask and an effective deterrent to the spread of COVID-19 infections.

As punishment Razer is being fined $100,000, plus the company’s total revenue from selling the Zephyr mask, which the FTC calculates at $1,071,254.33. The FTC will provide refunds directly to consumers who purchased the masks, which went for a hefty $100 when they were sold back in 2021 (with $30 for a set of ten replacement filters). Razer is also barred from advertising any product that claims to reduce COVID-19 spread or infection without FDA approval. Which seems like something any company should have to get, but like I said, loosey-goosey.

Razer could always appeal the decision…but with the Zephyr product retired and a Zephyr Pro with built-in amplification speakers apparently abandoned, I doubt it will bother. $1.1 million is honestly pretty light for a serious charge of misrepresenting a product as medically effective.

And as much as this article is dunking on Razer for making a big mistake when trying to make a quick buck in a new market, I should point out that the company made regular, non-RGB face masks during the early days of the pandemic and distributed them for free in its home territory of Singapore.

Michael is a former graphic designer who’s been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.

Leave a Response