Careful Bloggers, the FTC Might Start Watching You

By Daniel Scocco

There is a big buzz in the blogosphere about a regulation that the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) is planning to approve late this summer. If that goes through, they will basically start going after bloggers “for any false claims or failure to disclose any conflict of interest.”

In other words, if you write a testimonial for a product you have never used, you might get busted. This part is the one that makes sense. The controversial one is the “failure to disclose any conflict of interest” one. This could involve bloggers who earned a freebie from a company and ended up writing about it (without disclosing the freebie), for example. Furthermore, it could also mean that you can’t use any affiliate links inside your blog or website without disclosing that you stand to earn money if someone clicks on them.

I believe that trying to enforce strict guidelines and clean the web from spammers and scammers is a good thing. However, I am not sure if this proposed approach is the right one. It kind reminds me of the RIAA, and how they were trying to stop illegal music downloads by suing the heck out of a women who had shared a couple of songs via P2P….

Aaron Wall wrote a really good post about this topic, titled FTC Going After Bloggers = Epic Fail. Here is a quote from it:

What is absurd (to me at least) is how inefficient this process is. What needs to happen is better enforcement on ad networks, search engines, and merchants. Follow the money downstream rather than hunting for nickels upstream.

The people who are making fake sites are doing so because they are paid to. And amoral ad networks that syndicate ads based on *maximizing yield efficiency* (like Google AdWords) are designed to syndicate fraud because it is easy for advertisers to pay a lot for ads when their profit margins are nearly 100% because they scam people.

I completely agree with him. Going after individual bloggers will not solve the problem. It will just make the money shift hands, but the system will remain intact. Either way it is important to keep an eye on the development of this issue, because it might affect all of us.




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25 Responses to “Careful Bloggers, the FTC Might Start Watching You”

  • Gaby

    I think full disclosure is very important, so in theory it is a good move from them which should benefit honest bloggers in the long run.

    However, in reality I believe they will get it all wrong and go after the harmless little blogs who may not have even known that they are supposed to disclose or the issues involved with that.

  • Nick

    This a bunch of BS! I don’t like this at all! what happened to freedom of speech? Pretty soon you can’t even say you hate this certain person anymore because you may get banned from internet. Just how they want to make the internet not free anymore.. Which don’t make since. Man they are just going to kill the Internet. Someday their wont even be any internet. All these damn people and organization try ruin everything.

    If the Internet ends, the world will probably end because the economy will go down incredibility.

    This is a geek’s nightmare!

    I just hope nothing happens, I really hope it doesn’t pass! Why can’t they just leave it ALONE!

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Gaby, exactly.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Nick, I believe the FTC efforts to make the online market place are useful. The only thing is that they need to do it the right away.

  • Sarah

    Wonder how is the FTC going to police this with bloggers all around the world though?

  • Nicholas Z. Cardot

    Over on problogger they just did a survey a couple days ago about how many bloggers had posted a paid review of something. We had a discussion in the comments about whether or not that destroyed a bloggers credibility. While this bill may go a little overboard, it is important that bloggers and webmasters be honest with their visitors.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Sarah, well if you are based outside the U.S. you don’t need to worry too much about this regulation. It would be important to take a look at your own legislation though.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Nicholas, yeah I saw that, if I am not wrong around 25% of bloggers said they already did paid posts right?

    I agree with you that transparency and honesty and very important, and that is why I don’t accept money to write reviews in this blog (even though companies approach me for that weekly…).

    I am just not sure if going after individual bloggers will solve the issue.

  • excITingIP.com

    I think it is a nice move. I think it would be applicable for blogs as well as regular websites. There is so much crowding in the internet, that when ever I search for a particular information, I need to go to so many sites for good info (through search) and hence waste a lot of time. This will make bloggers more responsible about what they write and discourage putting a couple of affiliate links every two lines or have a blog only for displaying affiliate links!

    excITingIP.com

  • Clare Lynch

    ‘The controversial one is the “failure to disclose any conflict of interest” one. This could involve bloggers who earned a freebie from a company and ended up writing about it (without disclosing the freebie), for example.’

    Why are they singling out bloggers when journalists have been doing this for years? Pretty much every travel piece and every product in any magazine or newspaper is the result of a journalist bribed by a freebie. Sometimes even the restaurant reviews.

  • Nicholas Z. Cardot

    How will they regulate it? What if the blogger lives in the U.S. but his or her site is hosted on a server in Norway or Africa? Or visa versa?

  • Zemalf

    I’m assuming they will go after the mainstream big bloggers, who most likely have their behinds covered with legal advice and such, so I wouldn’t worry too much about this.

    But if/when they actually “go after bloggers” I’m pretty sure there will a whole lot of false positives if they use some badly designed algorithm to “catch” the violations.

    Here’s waiting for FTC to take down somme innocent grandpa who posted some positive things about his granddaughter’s new business without disclosing the relation.. *sigh*

  • Vikas

    This is crazy.. hunting each blogger…
    nice said..”” stop hunting for upstream nickels””

  • Eric C

    I don’t see this as something huge and scary, just an attempt to bring the web into line with the rest of the American economy. You can’t lie about your product now, and you shouldn’t be allowed to do that on the net. Don’t know how the internet became the exception to the rule on regulations.

    I have to agree with above comments, though, that if they go about enforcement the wrong way, then this will completely backfire. I’m not sure the alarmists need to be so worried.

    Now, if they can get the people who spam my inbox with advertisements for penis enlargements, then I’ll be happy…

  • SEO For Google

    It would really be interesting how they would implement that. Its quite impossible to monitor the thousands of blog sites

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Clare, good point about journalists who have been doing it for a while.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Nicholas, it is not clear yet. However, if you live in the U.S. I am pretty sure this would concern you, even if your hosting is outside the U.S..

    If you live abroad, but your hosting is located in the U.S., this could end up concerning you too, but to a lesser degree.

    If you live outside the U.S. and your hosting is outside too I don’t think you have much to worry.

  • GoBusiness101

    This is good for consumers…. this is bad for paid bloggers…. LOL

  • Chester

    Monitoring a thousand of blogs, good luck to them. This won’t work.

  • Dustin

    WTF is with the government anymore. They seem to want to do more to make them money as if paying taxes isn’t enough. I agree with them taking action against those who write testimonials on a product they never used just to provide its as a marketing ploy, but damn! Now you have to tell people that your bound to make money off of the users clicking.

    Bottom line, if that happens then nobody will personally make money if you ask me. The government is trying so hard to kill the internet marketing industry slowly through taxing, restrictive guidelines and all that un-necessary garbage.

    Yet they want more Small Business Owners. Like Aaron Wall said, this’ll likely fail should they try to attempt it because many bloggers would complain the FTC is trying to breach their Freedom of Speech!!! Just my .02 cents.

  • Rob

    Knowing how the U.S. Government works, maybe your title should be “Careful POPULAR Bloggers…”. It will take the FTC an army of a 1,000 people to monitor all the new daily blog posts, and a 1,000 more to address the possible offenders. That said, if they do do anything, it will only be done to those that they can make an example of.

  • Tommy Kirt

    While the concept of going after each blogger may seem absurd, they really only have to go after a few to create the fear to stop most other bloggers doing the same thing.

    Besides, this may make me unpopular but I really don’t see a problem with acknowledgment at the bottom of the post saying that the post was a “paid review” or similar. I mean isn’t that what it is, essentially an advertisement disguised, and to say different or to hide that fact is being dishonest with the readers, most of whom trust the blogger they visit.

  • Medyum

    Over on problogger they just did a survey a couple days ago about how many bloggers had posted a paid review of something. We had a discussion in the comments about whether or not that destroyed a bloggers credibility. While this bill may go a little overboard, it is important that bloggers and webmasters be honest with their visitors.

  • Robert

    the idea is good but the problem is how to implement it accordingly. it is very hard to monitor all the blogs.

  • Joey

    There is a Chinese proverb “Kill a rooster to scare a monkey”. I believe that is what will take place, otherwise, it’s too inefficient for FTC to monitor all the activities.

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