The Federal Trade Commission has now issued a new set of guidelines for commercial speech that includes requiring full disclosure for bloggers who endorse products or services and have received free products or other compensation. Now, generally, I’m not in favor of government regulation of any sort, or most sorts anyway, but this seems rather harmless. How much of a hardship is it to say, “they sent me this book free,” before you review it?
There is a pretty clear double-standard going on here, though, between bloggers and traditional print media. As an editor for quite a while now, I’ve gotten tons of free stuff from companies looking for a mention in print, some of them I reviewed, some I didn’t, but I can tell you this, I always kept the stuff. Or gave it to someone who could use it.
I read this interview with the FTC’s Richard Cleland and I was a little taken aback by exactly how naive he seemed with the concept of how newspapers and other commercial publications handle free stuff. It’s almost as if he didn’t want to realize that sending free stuff a reviewer’s way is basically a bribe for a positive mention, whether it’s a newspaper or a guy blogging in his basement. Does he really think The New York Times takes all those review copies of books and tosses them in the incinerator when they’re done with them?
Still, this doesn’t say you can’t take free stuff, just that you have to say you got free stuff if you review it. Doesn’t seem all that unreasonable to me. But they should hold traditional media to the same standard. By the way, there’s a fine of $11,000 for not doing so. Someone’s going to have to explain to me fee structure for fines someday. Why 11K instead of a nice round 10K? It’s the government, who knows?
Anyway, here’s the actual PDF of the new FTC rules straight from the horse’s mouth. And, no, they didn’t pay me to write this.