IAB Takes On FTC Over Silly Blogger Disclosure Rules

from the good-for-them dept

While more disclosure is generally a good thing, the FTC's new guidelines for blogging disclosure have some pretty massive problems, and probably aren't legal. As more and more people are recognizing this -- and interviews with the FTC folks in charge of this suggest they either haven't put very much thought into this issue or they don't quite know how the world works outside of their government cocoon -- the backlash is growing. Now, the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has stepped in with quite the open letter to the FTC, asking them to scrap the rules, while noting (snarkily) how impossible they are to follow, in practice:
So there I was last Saturday, about to send out on my Twitter feed -- which automatically updates my Facebook page and links to my personal blog -- a photograph of this wonderful baked halibut dish I'd just made as a surprise for my wife. I was in the middle of typing a rave review of the recipe, which I'd pulled from my favorite cookbook, Delicioso! The Regional Cooking of Spain by Penelope Casas. But before I could press the "post" button, I stopped and canceled the whole thing.

I remembered that the book was a freebie, sent to me by an editor at the Alfred A. Knopf publishing house 13 years ago. And I didn't want you guys to haul me into court and fine me for violating the rules you've just promulgated to muzzle social media.
While this may seem silly, it really does highlight the problems with the FTC's rules. They're totally unclear and absolutely could concern things like this. Getting a free book here or there happens all the time -- and the FTC actually claimed that if people don't return them, then they may face sanctions. That's ridiculous. Last month, we ran a fun contest for people to win free copies of a Kevin Smith book. If the winners from our comments mention that book anywhere online, do they need to mention they got the book for free? If they mention it to a friend, do they need to do the same thing? Because most of the time when posting stuff online, people really are just talking to their friends.

Again, it's not clear why people can't just sort this out themselves. People who post bogus reviews of things because someone pays them to, or because of something "free," are going to get called out on it eventually and lose their credibility. When people talk amongst friends, they don't reveal where they got the products they talk about, or if they happened to get a promotional sample -- and that's fine. While you can understand where the FTC is coming from, it really has gone overboard with these rules.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 1:06pm

    Jeebus

    I picked up a few AstroBoy comics (in anticipation of the new movie.) They were merely discounted, but dose that cross the line? It was below retail, although I think the store owners were just trying to move product. But that might have been part of a masterful plan.

    Y'know, it's just easier to shut up rather than leave myself open to prosecution. I'll be good.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 4:23pm

      Re: Jeebus

      I picked up a few AstroBoy comics (in anticipation of the new movie.) They were merely discounted, but dose that cross the line? It was below retail, although I think the store owners were just trying to move product. But that might have been part of a masterful plan.

      Were the comics available at that price to the general public or was it a "special deal" just for you?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 1:15pm

    Btw

    Thanks for running that contest. I received my book a week or so ago and haven't put it down since (shit, did I just break the rules?)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      "Helmet Man to the Rescue" The true story of Dark, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 1:35pm

      Re: Btw

      When are you going to write a book DH? If you do, can you make this picture it's cover?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        Dark Helmet (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 1:39pm

        Re: Re: Btw

        "When are you going to write a book DH? If you do, can you make this picture it's cover?"

        Have written one, out at Baen.

        BUT THAT PICTURE IS AWESOME!!! I'm tempted to write a free eBook for fun with a story idea based entirely on THAT picture. I'd be happy to release it to TechDirt as well, again, just for shits and giggles. Is the pic copyright, to your knowledge, or do you by chance know the rights holder?

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      A Dan (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 2:19pm

      Re: Btw

      I think it's ok since you didn't mention which book you were endorsing. It was related to the Silent Bob guy, right?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Brad Hubbard (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 2:02pm

    I tell my friends when I get something free

    So there was one thing I'd mention is that when I get free products from a company (for example, MS sends me stuff all the time because of my involvement with MSDN and their testing community). When my Office 2007 Ultimate showed up, I used it for a bit and told my friends how much I liked it (especially OneNote, for example). I also said "Yeah, MS sent it to me. It's really cool that they send out samples and let me try stuff early, and I give them feedback." This is typically seen as "neat" by my customers, and an example of companies they may want to do business with, or even get in on the testing side.

    That said, I don't think I need a law requiring me to disclose my relationship to MS or the fact that they sent it free every time I post about something that I like or dislike in a given MS product.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 2:27pm

    What's the problem? "I got his recipe from a book that I received for free a number of years ago from... "

    Some people just want to make stuff difficult.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Dark Helmet (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 2:36pm

      Re:

      "Some people just want to make stuff difficult."

      This rule is what's making it difficult. Are you seriously expecting anyone blogging about anything to keep a record of EVERYTHING they've been given, gifted, discounted, etc.?

      And again, I do NOT see newspaper reporters and/or tv journalists following this rule...

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 4:49pm

        Re: Re:

        This rule is what's making it difficult. Are you seriously expecting anyone blogging about anything to keep a record of EVERYTHING they've been given, gifted, discounted, etc.?

        If you read the story you should have known that he knew perfectly well that he had been give the book. He apparently didn't want his readers to know that though.

        And again, I do NOT see newspaper reporters and/or tv journalists following this rule...

        Perhaps they should. There have even been cases where whole fake newscasts, complete with fake newscasters, that were actually just planted marketing schemes have been broadcast. It's just another form of payola.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 5:01pm

        Re: Re:

        Remember, it's gifted from the source you are talking about.

        It isn't about christmas gifts from aunt martha.

        it isn't about your birthday present from your wife.

        it's about stuff you got from companies for free. That isn't everything you ever got. Plus remember, to be completely legal, you need to track all commercial gifts you receive, and in theory, report their value on your taxes. So any normal writer / blogger would know exactly what was a gift, and who he got it from (and how much it is worth).

        Tempest in a teapot. I suspect that some people (maybe even Mike here) will come out looking a little worse for it when we start to find out who has been paying for what, and who has been shipping the gifts. Perez Hilton might end up out of work!

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 4:36pm

    Transparency

    But before I could press the "post" button, I stopped and canceled the whole thing.

    I remembered that the book was a freebie, sent to me by an editor at the Alfred A. Knopf publishing house 13 years ago. And I didn't want you guys to haul me into court and fine me for violating the rules you've just promulgated to muzzle social media.


    Well, that may have been his choice, but the rules certainly wouldn't have prevented him from publishing the review. He may have been required him to be honest about being given the book, but if he'd rather hide that fact than publish the review, that's his choice. However, a claim that he could be hauled into court and fined just for publishing the review ranks up there with some of the best lies put out by the copyright industry.

    Once again, I note the contrast of Mike's support for transparency in gov't and opposition to it in marketing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2009 @ 12:32am

      Re: Transparency

      ++

      Mike is full of shit on this. The FTC is merely requiring pro bloggers to abide by the same rules as every other professional media outlet. Congress has said over and over again that citizens deserve to know when they're being advertised to. When you're watching TV and the action hero uses a Brand-X widget to save the day, and then on the way to commercial it says "This feature brought to you by Brand-X". Then at the end of the program in the roll credits, they'll also list off Brand-X as a sponsor. THAT'S BECAUSE ITS REQUIRED BY THE COMMUNICATIONS ACT.

      Bloggers are just pissed because their free ride is over.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Leo Martins (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 5:01pm

    attention span needed to understand conflicts of interest

    The twitter feed example points to the attention span problem that Larry Lessig referred to in his article about transparency. We may see patterns using transparency data in the same way as we tend to see a conflict of interest when presented to full disclosure information - though spurious.

    Anyway, my point is that the "naked transparency" Lessig pointed to seems to be equivalent to a "full disclosure" of bloggers. And despite I'm up for transparency and against this level of disclosure I don't know how to conciliate them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    John and Dagny Galt, Oct 18th, 2009 @ 5:46am

    We Confess, The Obamanator Made Us Post This...

    Dear Brothers and Sisters, Sons and Daughters of Liberty,

    There are only two types of human beings.

    One type just wants everyone to leave everyone else alone and these humans are students and advocates of the Philosophically Mature Non-Aggression Principle.

    The other type refuses to leave others alone and these humans are the Mobocracy Looter Minions with their hords of bureaucrats, jackboots, and mercenaries that perpetuate the perpetration of the loot and booty gravy-train. Rob-peter-to-buy-paul's-vote bread and circuses of the doomed Amerikan Empire.

    You are either the one...or the other.

    The John Galt Solution of Starving The Monkeys is the only solution. Stop funding and forging your own chains and shackles. What are you leaving for your children and grandchildren and prodigy!?!

    The Mobocracy Looter Minions must be allowed to consume everything around them, then each other, and finally themselves. There is no other way. Ayn Rand wrote about it over fifty years ago and it rings as soundly today as it did then.

    Get your copy of Starving The Monkeys by Tom Baugh today, before the book is banned and the author is hunted down and Vince Fostered!

    Sincerely,
    John and Dagny Galt
    Atlas Shrugged, Owner's Manual For The Universe!(tm)

    http://www.starvingthemonkeys.com/

    http://voluntaryist.com/fundamentals/introduc tion.php

    .

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This