Tuesday, October 6, 2009

FTC Tells Amateur Bloggers to Disclose Freebies or Be Fined

Gadget bloggers and Amazon.com reviewers now must disclose freebies and financial interests or face fines up to $11,000, according to rules announced by federal regulators Monday in an attempt to make word-of-mouth endorsements on the net easier to believe.

The Federal Trade Commission introduced the rules to prevent the net from being flooded with paid-for reviews which appear to be the work of everyday netizens, but are actually paid for with free products. But the new rules (.pdf) are confusing, ambiguous and likely unenforceable in the real world, given the size of the net, the sheer number of blogs and reviewers, and the difficulty of making distinctions between media professionals and amateurs, and between sponsored posts and pure reviews.

Under the new rules, a hiking enthusiast with a personal blog who got a free backpack would have to tell her readers about the gift and also disclose it in any online review. By contrast, established review sites such as Consumer Reports or Wired.com’s Gadget Lab do not need to disclose whether or not they get freebies or what they do with them. (For the record, at Wired.com, most anything of value that can be returned is.)

The FTC’s logic is that people trust established sites. They can’t do the same for a blog or reviewer, so disclosures are a must.

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