Razer made to pay $1.2M over 'N95' face mask that wasn't

Customers to get their light-up cyberpunk respirators refunded

Remember when Razer, better known for overpriced peripheral hardware with RGB blinkenlights aimed at gamers, released an overpriced "N95-grade" face mask?

According to the US Federal Trade Commission, the company's claims about the Zephyr mask's efficacy were pulled from thin air. Under a proposed settlement, Razer will have to pay $1.1 million in refunds to customers with a civil penalty of $100,000 on top.

The order [PDF] as it stands would also ban Razer and affiliates "from making COVID-related health misrepresentations or unsubstantiated health claims about protective health equipment," which makes sense seeing that the company's actual expertise lies in keyboards and mice.

The problem, the FTC says, is that when Razer set about promoting the product as "N95-grade" ahead of release toward the end of 2021, when fears about COVID-19 still ran high, it transpired that the company "never even submitted them for testing to the [Food and Drug Administration] or National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the masks were never certified as N95."

N95 is a classification of NIOSH air filtration rating. N95 respirators must, by definition, "filter at least 95 percent of ambient air particles between .1 and .3 micrometers in size, with even higher filtration levels for larger particles." If a product is not submitted to NIOSH and does not receive said rating, it would be "deceptive" to promote it as such, the FTC alleges.

"These businesses falsely claimed, in the midst of a global pandemic, that their face mask was the equivalent of an N95 certified respirator," said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "The FTC will continue to hold accountable businesses that use false and unsubstantiated claims to target consumers who are making decisions about their health and safety."

The complaint [PDF] states that the Zephyr was sold in two packages, one with three sets of filters for $99.99, and another with 33 sets of filters for $149.99. A top-up filter pack with ten sets cost $29.99. Certified N95 respirators can be purchased for a fraction of this price. Razer started out selling them online and in three stores in Seattle, San Francisco, and Las Vegas, later selling more through limited online "drops."

The mask boasted RGB lighting typical to inordinate amounts of gaming-oriented hardware around the filters, and some people might have thought it cool – if their aesthetic was rainbow Batman villain. It also had a clear panel at the front so the wearer's mouth was visible.

However, with no NIOSH certification nor permission to use the term "N95" in marketing, the FTC says it had reason to believe the Zephyr was fraudulent and posed a risk to public health.

The vote approving the complaint and proposed order was passed 3-0, and the FTC will use the $1.1 million sum, equal to revenue generated by the Zephyr, to provide full refunds to customers.

The Register asked Razer to comment, and a spokesperson told us: "We disagree with the FTC's allegations and did not admit to any wrongdoing as part of the settlement. It was never our intention to mislead anyone, and we chose to settle this matter to avoid the distraction and disruption of litigation and continue our focus on creating great products for gamers. Razer cares deeply about our community and is always looking to deliver technology in new and relevant ways.

"The Razer Zephyr was conceived to offer a different and innovative face covering option for the community. The FTC's claims against Razer concerned limited portions of some of the statements relating to the Zephyr. More than two years ago, Razer proactively notified customers that the Zephyr was not a N95 mask, stopped sales, and refunded customers." ®

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