The Federal Trade Commission is planning to crack down on bloggers who review or promote products while earning freebies or payments, the Associated Press reported Sunday. “New guidelines, expected to be approved late this summer with possible modifications, would clarify that the agency can go after bloggers–as well as the companies that compensate them–for any false claims or failure to disclose conflicts of interest,” the article explained. via Report: FTC to go after blogger freebies | Politics and Law – CNET News.
While I am not a big fan of government scrutiny and general “big brother” mentality, I do believe that this will add to the believability and authenticity of the blogging medium. We at Weblog Tools Collection try very hard to keep commercial interests completely out of the content that we generate and only rely on what we consider to be ethical ads to make ends meet. We also follow a strict full disclosure policy.
Bloggers who have regularly received freebies in the past and/or write reviews of products that they then received in lieu of the review (I was approached by a bean bag chair maker a couple of times, occasional reviewers need not care) might want to stay on top of this issue and practice full disclosure if you have not already done so. However in playing devil’s advocate, it would be very difficult to correctly identify the human behind the blogging persona without a criminal complaint and even then it might be in a legal grey area at the least (think DMCA). I am afraid that this level of scrutiny combined with general FUD might also dissuade some casual bloggers from posting reviews and reduce the general alacrity with which weekend bloggers post reviews. My thought is that the companies that offer the freebies (Lexus Automobiles?) and encourage non-disclosure should have to deal with the regulations and not the general blogging public (which is hard to enforce anyways). Techmeme has a bunch of good examples and discussion pieces.
All the transparency and legal issues aside, I think that this might be a good development if well defined and uniformly enforced. Writing reviews is a fun way to get into blogging and I would hate for things to get so formal that the casual reviewers get their hands slapped.