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Federal Trade Commission Will Regulate Blogging

Updated on April 04, 2011

For most of us hubbers this just won't apply. But many of us, myself included, have other blogs. So I'm not writing this for hubpages in particular, but for all us bloggers in general.

Regulations Hit the Blogsphere

For the first time The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will regulate blogging. New rules will require writers on the web to disclose any free products or payments for product reviews.

Today, Monday, October 5, 2009, the FTC voted four to zero (4-0) to approve the final Web guidelines. These guidelines have been expected since November 2008. The rules are expected to take effect on December 1, 2009.

Violating disclosure rules could result in an eleven thousand dollar ($11,000) fine per violation. Bloggers and/or advertisers could face injunctions and be forced to reimburse customers for any financial losses resulting from faulty products touted in those reviews.

The commission stopped short of specifying how bloggers must disclose conflicts of interest. Rich Cleland, assistant director of the FTC's advertising practices division, said the disclosure must be "clear and conspicuous," no matter what form it will take.

Vague Disclosure Rules & Unanswered Questions

Before the November decision, blogs varied in disclosing information about paid endorsements or gratuities. Some bloggers made mention of potential conflicts of interest at the end of a product endorsement while some made no mention at all.

Because of fears from some bloggers about "too close scrutiny", the FTC has stated that it is more likely to go after an advertiser instead of the blogger for any violations. The only exception would be a blogger who runs a substantial operation that violates FTC rules. Such an operation will receive a warning first.

There are problems with these statements though. What does "likely" mean and what does the FTC consider "substantial?"

Rich Cleland, assistant director of the FTC's advertising practices division said that any disclosure must be "clear and conspicuous", but did not supply any other specifics.

Bloggers have long praised or bashed products and services online. But what some consumers might not know is that many companies pay reviewers for their write-ups. Then there's the gratuity such as free goods, services, or both. By contrast, traditional journalists must return products borrowed for reviews.

Though existing FTC rules ban deceptive and unfair business practices, final guidelines aimed at clarifying the law for bloggers have yet to be released.

Cleland went on to state that a blogger who receives a free product without the advertiser knowing would not be in violation of FTC guidelines. As an example, someone who got a free bag or can of cat food as part of a promotion from a pet-shop would not be in violation for writing about the product. In other words if the free product trial was part of a wide promotion and the manufacturer did not contact the blogger directly no violation would occur.

None of this addresses the more complex mechanism of cost per click such as those paid by Google adwords, though that likely will not apply.

FTC Quote

A quote directly from the FTC web-site states:

"the revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service."

Disclaimer

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has not paid me nor given me a "get out of jail free" card for writing this hub about this recent ruling. My reporting on this topic is in no way subsidized nor approved by the FTC.

I wrote it without the FTCs permission. I own no stock in (though some part of my taxes pay for it) the FTC nor did the FTC make any offer toward me either monetarily or with "freebies" for writing this hub.

Comments

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  • profile image

    naveenkumarc 7 years ago

    thnks for sharing this....

  • someonewhoknows profile image

    someonewhoknows 7 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

    I imagine that the F.T.C. would only go after sites that had consumer complaints much like the better business bereau -the B.B.B. But,I'm not sure about that.If,they have the money and manpower they might just go looking for sites that they suspect may not meet their standards of disclosure and overtly try to determine if a site is in compliance with the rules ,but that would seem prohibitively costly.

  • profile image

    scheng1 7 years ago

    China is also regulating Internet. I wonder how the cyberworld evolves due to all the restriction

  • LiamBean profile image
    Author

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    spudnik8, Diane Mann & sukher143: Thanks for your comments.

    spudnik8: The disclaimer just begged to be there!

  • sukhera143 profile image

    sukhera143 7 years ago from Home

    Informative.

  • LiamBean profile image
    Author

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    EWealthGuide and freerazphone. Thank you!

  • profile image

    freerazrphone 7 years ago

    great hub, thx

  • EWealthGuide profile image

    EWealthGuide 7 years ago from Vancouver

    I've been reading up on this on other sites, and I find it very interesting, and I learned a few more points, thanks to your hub. Good job

  • LiamBean profile image
    Author

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    123ugg. Posting a reply simply to get an external link worked into my article is frowned upon by HubPages staff. I also frown upon it. I've rejected your comment for that reason.

  • profile image

    Diane Mann 7 years ago

    All I can say is "wow." Thanks for sharing this information. Great piece. Extremely informative.

  • spudnik8 profile image

    spudnik8 7 years ago from Brisbane, Australia

    I think it is imperative that there should be absolute transparency in the media, and that includes any write-ups on the internet as well. However, you are right in saying that this new legislature is still too vague and general in terms of how the FTC plans on regulating conflicts of interest in reviews/blogs. By the way, cheeky disclaimer, I like it. Wonder what the FTC feel about it :p

  • profile image

    KellyEngaldo 7 years ago

    I love the transparency of this! As an inventor, have tried always to disclose what my products are and why I am blogging about them. Being new to blogging, I started only with products where I have no affiliation. My clients want blogs and videos about my products but I don't wish to confuse the readers about my objectivity. This is much needed leglislation - it clearly sets the standards. As a product manufacturer - I greatly appreciate this clarity. Thank you very much for sharing.

  • Choke Frantic profile image

    Choke Frantic 7 years ago from Newcastle, Australia

    This is all very scary stuff, but good hub nonetheless.

  • LiamBean profile image
    Author

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    MikeNV: Thanks for the comment. That's my hope.

  • MikeNV profile image

    MikeNV 7 years ago from Henderson, NV

    This isn't regulating blogging, it's simply requiring people who write reviews to have disclosure to those people who read them. For the most part outside of a few unethical marketers this will have no effect on the average blogger.

  • LiamBean profile image
    Author

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Doodlebugs: Exactly. I've been around long enough to see all sorts of laws subverted and misused. I do have hope that these rules help, but I also know that "intent" is not the same as "action." So despite Rich Cleland's reassuring sounding statements, such as "it [the FTC] is more likely to go after an advertiser instead of the blogger for any violations" isn't all that reassuring. "More likely to" is not the same as "will go advertisers; not bloggers."

  • doodlebugs profile image

    doodlebugs 7 years ago from Southwest

    It seems like a good idea, but where do you end regulation of the internet? For me, buyer beware is the best policy. If they can't keep products like Enzyte, which is made from ground up oat straw I believe, off the market, or regulate "Cash For Gold" ripoffs, how do they intend to regulate internet commerce?

  • author101 profile image

    author101 7 years ago

    I'm looking forward to seeing where any legislation on pay-per-click goes. The disclosure argument makes sense, but I agree with buzzy when he says that you should eb able to tell whether the review is paid or not.

  • buzzyblogger profile image

    buzzyblogger 7 years ago

    If you aren't smart enough to figure out when you are reading a paid blog post or sponsored review, I don't think the FTC is going to help you too much. I'd rather keep regulation out of the internet. Perhaps the FTC should apply their own thinking to television and make news stations disclose all paid spots. This is really just an attempt for the FTC to combat the internet because they are loosing control on media.

  • LiamBean profile image
    Author

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Laura and Dolores: Thanks for the comments.

    Laura I think as long as you have a disclaimer somewhere in your articles (I choose the bottom of them), you should be fine.

    Dolores: You might want to review my "Best" series. I've reviewed kitchen cookware, utensils, and other products. I've never received any compensation for these reviews and and say so in my Disclaimer section. In fact, all of the products I review were bought and paid for by myself. This is the only way I'll review a product. I have to own it to know enough about it to write a review.

    My disclaimer says as much.

    As to inserted ads from Amazon or eBay they have a box that states that the ads are from those two companies.

  • Dolores Monet profile image

    Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

    Hmm, interesting. I think it's one thing if a company is paying you to write up a review, but how about affiliates like amazon, if you display the product in an ad, isn't that kind of obvious? Do they say anything about that?

  • Laura du Toit profile image

    Laura du Toit 7 years ago from South Africa

    Thanks for this very useful information. I have a review site and I will have to rethink how to make sure that I don't find myself on the wrong side of the law.

    Thanks once again

  • LiamBean profile image
    Author

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    wsp2469: How do I put this? Oh yeah. BAM!!!

    Great comments.

  • wsp2469 profile image

    wsp2469 7 years ago from Alta Loma, Ca

    I have no problem with honesty. It's a shame people cannot regulate themselves sometimes. Those are the ones to blame of you are concerned about control. Just look at the 'ad whores" in these very pages.

    Other media is regulated. We all know about ad placement in movies, for example. So why should the internet be any different when it comes to spam and "e-bay whores"? That whole control aregument is just perfect for the "ad whores". I hope they don't read it.

    Jcorkern, WHY do you work 18 hours a day!? Damn! You really need all that OT?

  • profile image

    jcorkern 7 years ago

    This is about control, not consumer protection. It is a slow chipping away at the free internet. They take a small bite at a time until they have total control. We let them do it with our money here in the U.S. and we can see where that led us.

    The people who make these regulations know a lot more about what they are doing than they let on. They have been looking for an angle to attack bloggers for a while, so they can regulate them and stop information from getting to the masses via the internet, and bloggers have been a thorn in their side from the very first blog.

    The people who are trying to manage us have failed at every attempt that they have made at managing our country as a whole. All politicians and policy makers are nothing but parasites on society as a whole.

    One of my businesses sent a check for 60 k just a few months ago to the IRS, they do no work, did not "produce" anything for it. But the likes of Nancy P spends 60 k a year on fresh flowers for her office?

    I work 18 hours a day for that @@*%$ to have fresh flowers? I am not alone, everyone here pays taxes so they can live high on the hog while robbing us blind?

    All of our government is out of control.

  • Christoph Reilly profile image

    Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

    I'm sure the IRS will ride in on their coattails.

  • Frieda Babbley profile image

    Frieda Babbley 7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

    I'm going to cross my fingers and hope that this will do some good. Unless they are wanting this to fail, I'm sure they probably have particular targets (types) in mind. I hope this turns out to be a good checks and balances type of system. Thanks for the info. Off to check out getting there's conversation. Thanks for the link on that.

  • LiamBean profile image
    Author

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Just a comment here. I think for the most part these new rules are a good thing. There's no way to know how many bloggers out there tout products for bucks. If they do it simply to make money and have no use for those products then the endorsements are dishonest. This rule change should also have an effect on the honesty of bloggers...I hope.

  • thisisoli profile image

    thisisoli 7 years ago from Austin, Texas (From York, England!)

    I would really like to see how they are going to enforce this. Not only do they have to deal with the hassle of going through millions of blogs, they also have to separate which of the mostly anonymous blogs are written by US writers. If the US government starts hassling me over this they can expect a lawsuit to hit the first plane over.

    I do plenty of personal writing, review writing and ad writing. Some is intermingled, on my personal blogs i tag as commercial, but noway will i suffer through this kind of ridiculous bureaucracy.

    There is plenty of media out there, including films and computer games, which have paid advertisements subtlety built in to games. Newspapers regularly have biased paid for opinions in them. Why are they even attempting to take on blogging?

    And if they go after the promoting companies, for work they have little control over... Nightmare.

  • LiamBean profile image
    Author

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    eBay can go urinate up a rope for all I care.

    Thanks wsp. Well put.

  • wsp2469 profile image

    wsp2469 7 years ago from Alta Loma, Ca

    Well, i figure as long as you're an actual writer and not an "e-bay whore" (or whatever label you choose) then this shouldn't be a problem. I like the idea in that maybe this will help cut down on the "ad copy" as opposed to the real writing. I HATE that people who praise products and services here just to sell things are considered writers and are even rewarded for it with high hub scores.

    Honesty is the best policy. If you're an "ad whore" admit it. At least people can respect the honesty of an admission like that; right?

  • profile image

    Regs 7 years ago

    Someone stiffed a congressman.

  • Filipino girls profile image

    Filipino girls 7 years ago

    thanks for your informative hubs

  • recessionincome profile image

    recessionincome 7 years ago

    Wow!

  • Fortunate profile image

    Fortunate 7 years ago

    Payperclick maybe is Causes everything.

  • LiamBean profile image
    Author

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Exactly right earnestshub!!

  • earnestshub profile image

    earnestshub 7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

    I hope they get it right too, the trouble with regulations is often the unintended results.

  • The Rope profile image

    The Rope 7 years ago from SE US

    I agree with C.J. and with you. It's sad to see so much misrepresentation and bad info out there but the use of this issue is an easy vote for capitol hill and they get something they've wanted for a long time - without a lot of negative press.

  • Hmrjmr1 profile image

    Hmrjmr1 7 years ago from Georgia, USA

    Great and Timely Hub Thanks

  • LiamBean profile image
    Author

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Darkside: Same here, I just hope the FTC sees it that way too. The point I was trying to make in the forum is this.

    IF I get paid for something I wrote it will be "after the fact", not because some vendor came to me in the first place and offered me cash or products for a good review.

    For example, I reviewed some kitchen utensils. I own every one of them, bought and paid for with my own money. I reviewed them because I think they are well made and well worth the cost. It is an unsolicited review.

    NOW if I happen to make money back from some Amazon purchases it's not because I struck a deal with the vendor in the first place, but because I know from experience that they make good products. I'm simply saying so.

  • darkside profile image

    Glen 7 years ago from Australia

    My opinions and reviews aren't bought (in cash or free product) so the FTC doesn't regulate my blogging or hubbing (even if I did live in the US).

  • LiamBean profile image
    Author

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Saw that. I'm going to add a link to your hub from this one.

  • getting there profile image

    getting there 7 years ago

    Great hub! Great writing!

    I spoke with Richard Cleland myself, and we concluded in our conversation that while generally bloggers using pay per click mechanisms would probably not fall under the requirements, there are scenarios where they probably would. I discuss this in more detail on my hub.

  • LiamBean profile image
    Author

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    THERE YOU ARE!!! Thanks fastfreta!

  • fastfreta profile image

    Alfreta Sailor 7 years ago from Southern California

    This is a hub I must bookmark, because even though I don't make money blogging, someday I might. Thanks for this.

  • LiamBean profile image
    Author

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    C.J.: Saw the headline and remembered all the hubbers here that write elsewhere. I am leary of the whole thing. The decision isn't real clear on what "deduce" actually means. Also director Rich Cleland, saying that they are "more likely to go after an advertiser" is no assurance that they won't go after the blogger too. After all, what does "substantial" mean to the FTC.

  • profile image

    C.J. Wright 7 years ago

    LB,

    I was wondering who would hub this first. Don't you think there are more angles to this than just consumer protection? I know the folks on capital hill and state legislatures have been chomping at the bit to get their hands on a bigger piece of the internet market. I would imagine that there is a lot of tax evasion that happens in e-commerce.

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