ftc_logoThe Federal Trade Commission has officially adopted new rules that could send the entire tech blogosphere into a tailspin.

The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has officially adopted some new guidelines for disclosure of “material connections” that they have been promising for some time now.  The odd part is that they seem to impact everyone but print media.

The part of the press release that just makes this whole thing a mess is as follows:

The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. 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.

Where are the newspapers and magazines in all of this?  Companies send out “review units” for products all the time to both bloggers and print media: sometimes they request they be returned, other times they don’t.  So why are only bloggers being mentioned specifically in this?  True, the entire new guidelines also cover celebrity endorsements, but the only written word people covered are bloggers.  And if we are caught doing a review without disclosing a “material connection”, we face fines of up to $11,000.

There are some other rather large questions left by these new rules.

Will we have to go back and add disclosures to old posts?

Imagine a site like Engadget or Gizmodo having to go back and go through all of their old posts.  This probably won’t happen, but if it did, it would be the biggest mess ever.  (For the record, StarterTech has received exactly two items as a “freebie” to review thus far, that was a Chumby and another item that was so horrible that we skipped reviewing it.)

Why is print media not covered by this?

How did “old media” get off completely free in this?  Print journalists also receive “freebies”, and have been taken on many “junkets” (i.e. paid trips) to cover stories, but somehow only bloggers are covered by this?  The only difference is where we publish.

What form must the disclosures take?

Does it have to be lengthy?  Can we write just one disclosure and link back to it?  What points must it cover?

What will happen if I am sent a product to review that is to appear on a blog based in another country?

The FTC is a body governing only the United States, but the Internet is global.  I happen to work for two blogs based in other countries.  Let me give you the scenario for one of them:  BLORGE.com is based in Australia, so technically it doesn’t fall under the FTC, but would I?  One of the other writers at BLORGE is based in the United Kingdom, so obviously he doesn’t fall under the rules, so would I have to disclose information, but he wouldn’t?  That would kind of look odd on the site.

What if a blogger lives elsewhere, but the server their blog is hosted on is inside the United States?  Technically the FTC can’t do anything to them, but maybe they would shut down the blog?

Questions, Questions, Questions

Why now?  What has so drastically changed that bloggers must now disclose everything we do?  Don’t get me wrong, these new guidelines will have little to no impact on StarterTech at this time due to us not being on enough review lists, but this is something we were going to focus on more heavily in 2010.    At this time though, this is purely written from a view point of, “you have to be kidding me.”

Categories: News, Opinion   

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