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FTC says bloggers must disclose payments and freebies

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October 5th, 2009
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Blogging, Blogging News

FTC says bloggers must disclose payments and freebies when reviewing products or risk being fined $16,000: This morning, the Federal Trade Commission published their Final Guides Governing Endorsements, Testimonials with changes that affect testimonial advertising, bloggers and celebrity endorsements. Though these are guidelines and not regulations, bloggers could face civil fines up to $16,000 and advertisers could also face fines.

Interesting to note is that there are no guidelines on how to disclose relationships and this has no effect on blogs, corporations and relationships outside of the US. The new rules would apply to any transfer of value in exchange for publicity but seems very watered down in its execution. TechMeme is full of reverberations, but is there a lot to worry about for the everyday blogger?

My question is, have you ever received money or gifts for your posts? Have you been offered products in exchange for writing reviews? I know I have received many offers for products and services but I have turned them all down because of what is important to me. I feel that a “good review” in exchange for a  handout or promise of other items of value, rather cheapens the reason for me to blog. Have you received anything through your blog that worries you?

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Comments

  1. Jayne d'Arcy (9 comments.) says:

    What about people that ask for donations? Would this affect them?

    • Mark Ghosh (386 comments.) says:

      As long as the donations do not have direct publicity associated with them and the relationships are disclosed.

  2. Dennis (1 comments.) says:

    The only thing I receive is the book I’ve been asked to review. I’m going to guess that’s not considered payment. However, when government regulations come into play, guessing might not be the best way to go.

  3. TikiPundit says:

    Don’t blog, but think we need to see Congressional bills and Congressmen’s pages reflect the endorsements (i.e., business/lobbyist contributions they receive, as well.

  4. Zac (1 comments.) says:

    I’ve got one, on my iphone/ipod blog I sometimes get offered software to review. I have given good and bad reviews, whatever is fair. I’m not doing the review for the product but I do get it free. Does this mean I need a big glowing disclaimer because I mean obviously they gave me the product to look at…

    • BJohnM (3 comments.) says:

      You don’t need a big glowing disclaimer, but you should note in the review that the company provided you with a copy of the software for evaluation. I’m no attorney, but that appears to be all that’s required.

      I know some people will consider it a burden, but I think it’s a fairly decent regulation. You might always give a fair review (good or bad), but the readers should be able to evaluate your fairness. If someone gave you the product for free, you might be more inclined to provide a good review. So, by informing me that you got the software for free, I can more fairly evaluate your review.

  5. Ann-Kat (Today, I Read...) (6 comments.) says:

    I write a book review blog. Publishers, publicists, and authors contact me to review their books and in return I get a free copy (usually an ARC–Advanced Reader’s Copy). Does this mean they’re automatically entitled to a good review? Absolutely not.

    Now, having the government tell me that I absolutely must tell them that I received a book from a publicist is a little annoying. I value my readers, so would never willingly mislead them if I think a book is less than stellar. And with the sheer number of books I read, sometimes it’s difficult to keep straight where and from whom I received a book, especially considering that the vast majority were bought and paid for by me or checked out from the library.

    As TikiPundit said, I’d love to see these sort of “guidelines” for Congressmen.

    • Ryan (1 comments.) says:

      It doesn’t need to be disclosed on a case by case basis. You can make a page with a disclosure policy that will cover you for anything you post on your site. Google disclosure policy and you can easily generate one that works for your needs.

  6. Daryl Teo (2 comments.) says:

    I think this is related. Have a look at this website

    http://www.contagiousnetwork.com.au/

    They give their members products on the condition that they review the product in any way/form, either through word of mouth, social networks and blogs etc.

    Members can choose not to review a product if they do not find it favorable.

  7. bubazoo (213 comments.) says:

    then this doesn’t affect me. All I do is the cup of coffee plugin, and I’ve never recieved a donation from that yet. bunch of cheapskates I tell ya. lol

  8. Keith Dsouza (82 comments.) says:

    I am not sure how they will deal with sponsored posts, several big blogs usually add sponsored posts in between regular posts.

    Now the problem is that no one is going to say I received $10000 to insert this sponsored post. Of course according to those regulations any posts, for which you received money to write about, should be disclosed.

    Not sure whether it will affect small time bloggers, those big shows will definitely not be happy about it.

  9. Graeme (1 comments.) says:

    I have received several books for review on a website that I run (not a blog). I have clear policies about reviewing books, the first being that I will only read books that interest me. Therefore, I don’t set myself the task of having to read books that don’t interest me, and that I am unable to honestly comment on the content (if it is in an area I no absolutely nothing about – the particular website’s niche area is quite broad). I believe I can give honest reviews of the books, and if I found it to be complete trash I would simply not review it. I don’t necessarily state that I was given a copy (usually PDF) of the book, as this is irrelevant when you consider that I wouldn’t simply give a glowing review to a book I didn’t like. Receiving a complimentary copy to read is fair enough exchange for the amount of time it takes to read a book! Actually, I know there is a well established book review service that will read and honestly review any authors’ books – no fee required. The only cost is a copy (maybe 2-3 copies) of the book.

    Endorsing books or any products you don’t actually like is a little weird, and most likely questionable ethically. However, celebrity endorsements have been going on for years and scandals happen. Take for instance when Michael Jackons got caught out drinking Coca Cola when he was the face of Pepsi… Celebrities get paid for promoting the idea that they use a product, but it doesn’t make it so. Joe Bloggs blogger writing a review on a product they were given to try doesn’t even compare.

  10. manga (24 comments.) says:

    Yes, one single time I have received a review product so that I could write a review about it.

    It was a game and I was very cautios about it at first but went trough with it.

    I wrote a review that reflected my feelings when I played the game and it was so so.

    But for getting money to write a review the way someone else wants it? I would never do that. If I think that a game or product suck then I will write it down as such. No money in the world could change that.

    Unless I´m at the verge of dying from hunger or something worse. But otherwise no. No selling my writing for money or products.

  11. Core News (1 comments.) says:

    I receive promos through my music blog and I don’t see anything wrong with that, but most of the time I mentioned that I have received the release as a promo. I don’t think music journalists in the big newspapers pay for the CDs they review?

  12. Web Design Malta (1 comments.) says:

    It hasn’t been explicitly stated in the article or comments, so please allow me to: this new legislation only affects the USA. Bloggers elsewhere have no need to fear.

  13. Angelo (1 comments.) says:

    Does this apply to affiliate websites? I have this blog where I am posting articles related to the products I am promoting. If someone clicks on a link or image and goes to the referred site and makes a purchase then I get paid. But only if they buy something. It’s a commission not a gift. I’m not sure if this applies.

  14. Patrick (3 comments.) says:

    Nope, Never received so much as a request for one. I wouldn’t do anyhow. To me, it is like being paid to lie about something.

    As a ardent Capitalist, my feeling is, you want exposure for your product, pay for advertising. I use one of the best Blog Ad companies in the business, Blogads, and my prices are some of the cheapest in the business. If that’s too much for someone, then they do not have any business at all; being in business.

    In Order to make money, you have to spend a little money, no way around that at all. It is how our system is set up. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Because someone ALWAYS pays.

    -Pat

  15. Ryan Rampersad (9 comments.) says:

    I would happily review software or products if they were sent to me. I don’t mind be brutally honest either, if it sucks it sucks, if it’s incredible, it’s incredible.

    I wouldn’t write a biased review for payment however. It seems to defeat the purpose. I don’t even read testimonials anymore for any product or service for that very reason.

  16. Jeff Chandler (171 comments.) says:

    I’ve received books from people in exchange for reviews but I’ve always notified the person ahead of time it will be a 100% legit review. I’ve also received some premium WordPress products for review but I never keep them. Instead, I give the product a legit review and then give it away to my readers. That is one of the stipulations for reviewing a product or service that is pitched to me. I’ll give them an honest review but my readers benefit as well by having a chance to get the product or service I reviewed. I’m generally up front about these reviews as well acknowledging who I was pitched by, etc. Looks like I just need to keep on doing that.

  17. Shawn Ann (1 comments.) says:

    I have a blog where myself and another person post frugal things (coupons, deals, etc.) and we also do reviews and giveaways. 99% of the reviews we do are on products that we received for free to give our honest opinion on them and post for everyone to see. We specifically state in our media kit that all products that are to be reviewed must be sent free of charge to us and will not be returned. The only thing we receive is the product(s) we are reviewing and nothing more (unless we get an additional item for a giveaway and we ask that they do not send it to us but directly to the winner of the giveaway).

    The whole thing is stupid because it is common knowledge that we are getting these items for free to review. We don’t just review items that we want or need, we review everything. I am not a fan of books but I’ve done more book reviews lately than anything. It is an inconvenience if we are going to have to put into our reviews that the items were sent to us free of charge to do the review, but the review is our own opinion and the free product has no influence on our review. And yes, that is exactly what we’d have to do because not all reviews are of items we received free of charge. There are times where we have to pay for an item or we are writing a review on an item that we’ve purchased and want others to know about. Since we weren’t given those items free of charge and we are still considered to be endorsing the product because we are writing a good review, we’d then have to mention that “I purchased this item with my own money, blah blah blah” so people would know that this item wasn’t free to us.

  18. Milan (17 comments.) says:

    The Ottawa Fringe Festival gives free passes to bloggers, and invites them to an annual wine and cheese.

    Most who post about the festival do make a note of the freebies.

  19. Kelson (20 comments.) says:

    A couple of years ago I was sent a review copy of a DVD. It was something I was planning to buy anyway, and I wrote an honest review of it.

    Even at the time though, I did feel like I should disclose the fact that they sent me a free copy.

  20. Laurie says:

    I’m wondering what is the practice for restaurant reviewers. Do restaurant owners offer them free meals for reviewing? Or do the reviewers like to be anonymous when dining to get the typical experience and pay for the meal themselves? Seems like they would disclose it on their blogs, either way.

    • Martin (1 comments.) says:

      Restaurant reviewers eat anonymously and usually expense the meals to the newspaper or whatever. Ruth Reichl (editor of the about-to-close Gourmet) talks about disguising herself when she reviewed restaurants for a living. Most restaurants are (rightly) very suspicious if someone comes in and announces “I’m famous reviewer X.”

  21. Ben Davis (1 comments.) says:

    “Interesting to note is that there are no guidelines on how to disclose relationships and this has no effect on blogs, corporations and relationships outside of the US.”

    Is a blog, corporation or relationship defined as outside the US by the location of the person/group concerned or where their website is hosted?

    While I can’t say I particularly agree with these new guidelines it seems unfair to only affect those in the states.

  22. gregw (1 comments.) says:

    Interesting. I think that the entire question about how to handle this was stated by @Ryan. Create a disclosure page on your website or blog with your policy, or add it to your Terms of Service page. If you do not have one, you should.
    There is another angle to this that has not been brought up. Myself and two others, that I know of, were contacted by a company rep, that will remain unnamed, that offered us money to cease and desist from giving them bad reviews.
    Two of us continue to give honest reviews and the third has quit reviewing them altogether. I cannot say that this person, blogger, took their offer or not, but I suspect that it may have happened.
    In a case such as this would they have to declare this in some way, under these new guidelines, if they are in the USA?

  23. Developer Overseas says:

    Just host outside the USA. Put your blog on a server in Canada, if you are in the USA. Easy!

  24. Doug (1 comments.) says:

    I’m thinking there should be a distinction between cash and freebies…Doesn’t make sense to me to have to remember and reveal if you got a book you end up writing about for free. Most people respect their own personal reputations enough that you have to pay them quite a lot to get them to sell out and review a product or book they don’t like, freebies always run the risk of a negative review.

  25. Darren Jamieson (1 comments.) says:

    I’m glad I’m not in the US as WhatDVD.net gets loads of DVDs each month from PR companies and studios wanting their releases covered. It’s no different to a magazine or games website I suppose.

  26. Matt Gaines (1 comments.) says:

    This is a very interesting move the FTC has done. I wonder what was the driving force behind it? Complaints from actual consumers or Congress looking for another was to capitalize???

  27. Michelle (1 comments.) says:

    This is a pretty dumb law Do Main Stream Newspapers disclose that they receive review product EVERY time they get a product in for review? No. So why this new law that says bloggers have to disclose it EVERY time. I run a entertainment review site and we get tons of stuff – gear (that always has to be returned), games, software, movie tickets, dvds, blu-rays, etc for review. Do I now have to tell my writers to make sure they put in a disclaimer every single time? It’s dumb and until I see the Wash Posts, CNNs, etc of this world doing it as well, I’m just going to ignore them.

  28. Steve Franklin (1 comments.) says:

    Like a lot of stuff on the web, this was born out of abuse. Same thing with can spam act. Its those individuals who abuse a situation make it harder for everyone else.



Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] FTC says bloggers must disclose payments and freebies by Mark Ghosh on Weblog Tools Collection [...]

  2. [...] FTC says bloggers must disclose payments and freebies Interesting to note is that there are no guidelines on how to disclose relationships and this has no effect on blogs, corporations and relationships outside of the US. The new rules would apply to any transfer of value in exchange for publicity but seems very watered down in its execution. TechMeme is full of reverberations, but is there a lot to worry about for the everyday blogger? [...]

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