Free ride disclosed

/ 6 October 2009

The blogosphere is bubbling with concern over new FTC rules, due to go into effect in December, which would require disclosure of any relationship between reviewer and reviewee. For example, if a reviewer received an advance review copy (ARC) of something they then reviewed, they would have to disclose that fact in the review. This is an effort by the FCC to stem the tide of viral marketing that appears “authentic” to the reader, but is in fact “paid for” in some sense by the manufacturer or publisher.

The rules seem, on the whole, reasonable to me. Granted, I’ve never reviewed something I’m paid for or received for free, so I’m not the “target” of these changes.

The one troubling objection I’ve seen made is that the new rules may hold the manufacturers or publishers liable in some way for false statements made by bloggers. In other words, the rules may treat blog posts and tweets as traditional advertising subject, in some way, to “false advertising” claims. As one blogger laments:

Like I want publishers breathing down my neck while I try to write fair and honest reviews. We’ve already turned away publishers who wanted to have oversight over our reviews. And frankly, I feel like I should be giving instruction to publishers on labeling issues.

This would, indeed, be a problem. I hope the FTC does not equate an ARC to the kind of payment and responsibility an advertiser assumes for an ad that they place. But on the whole I am glad to see the FTC thinking about the future of marketing and the consumer protections we need in place to be able to judge the information we get via the web.


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