Did The FTC's New 'Blogger' Guidelines Just Change The Way All Book/Music Reviews Must Be Conducted?

from the just-wondering dept

A bunch of folks have been sending in the fact that the FTC has (as was widely expected) approved new rules on “endorsements” or “testimonials,” including a section on bloggers or “word-of-mouth marketers.” The end goal here is definitely admirable, but I question whether or not this ruling really makes sense:

The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers — connections that consumers would not expect — must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.

Again, the concept is definitely admirable. There’s long been a fear that companies are effectively bribing people with free stuff in order to get good reviews, and the FTC wants people to reveal that info. But… does that really make sense? It seems to me like this could just create a totally unnecessary minefield for anyone who blogs. And why is this focused on bloggers and word-of-mouth marketers? Almost all book and music reviews in the mainstream press involve the books and music being sent for free – and there’s never been any question of impartiality of most of those reviews — but why are they now left out of these rules? Is every blogger who reviews a book going to have to disclose where they got it? What about music? Many music bloggers are sent mp3s by the record labels. Do they need to reveal who sent them stuff? Does that really matter?

The real question, from my standpoint, is whether or not the FTC is really needed here. If someone is constantly blogging positively about stuff they get for free, they put their own credibility at risk, as people realize that the products aren’t actually very good. It seems like the type of situation that sorts itself out. Those who are constantly pushing products for questionable reasons hurt themselves and soon no one trusts them. Does the FTC really need to be involved in that process? In the meantime, I’m suddenly glad that we don’t do reviews on this site for the most part. I do occasionally mention or review books, but I guess I’ll have to mention when I buy those books vs. when I’m sent them for free (it’s about 50/50), which seems pretty pointless.

Filed Under: , , , , ,
Companies: ftc

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Did The FTC's New 'Blogger' Guidelines Just Change The Way All Book/Music Reviews Must Be Conducted?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymoose says:

What about negative reviews?

…perhaps paid by a competitor who is not mentioned? Or where a product was given through a friend, and not the company? What if a foundation with no commercial ties, but a vested interest, finances an opinion about a product or film? Will there also be actionable accusations made against positive bloggers who had no real financial incentive or company tie? How do you defend against allegations? (Prove the negative?)

Seems dodgy to add a new content nanny with the authority of law, when readers can already look at the collected historical works of any one source and determine for themselves if they are to be trusted as impartial, biased, or paid…

And does this regulate spoken reviews as well? Friend networks that aren’t public? Conversations with friends and family endorsing a product you received a free sample of in the mail?

And why only bloggers? Wonder how many newspaper people or old media guard had the FTCs ear on this one?

Blah. Shouldn’t have to ask these kinds of questions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Simon and Garfunkle said “The words of the Prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls”

Do you think translated, it means in today’s ideas are located on the subway walls which would be blogs?

Secondly, and more importantly, why is the FTC worried about blogs instead of reforming copyright and patent law?

Devonavar (user link) says:

And bad reviews?

I’ve written some pretty scathing reviews in my time, all of which were given to us for free by companies seeking good reviews. I object to having my relationship to these products characterized as an “endorsement”.

That said, there *is* pressure to produce good reviews from all the companies involved … either by not publishing bad ones (“kill fees” are not unheard of), or encouraging reviews to take a more positive tone. That said, “positive” reviews tend to make better reading anyway; being negative about things generally doesn’t make for riveting reading (are you listening newspapers?) The key to a good review isn’t to give a good/bad rating (that’s just what companies want). It’s to describe the product in enough detail that people who might be able to use the product know what it is useful for.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

I think it’s mostly going to be useless. I mean, the result is going to most likely be a standard disclaimer for all blogs. “We may or may not have received stuff/money from that company to tell you this.” The end result is that everyone will ignore the disclaimer as with all standard disclaimers… The FCC will feel good though…

rwahrens (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think the intent of the rule is for companies/individuals to say “I DID receive payment from the manufacturer of this product”. — not I may or may not have.

This is not to become a “standard” disclaimer unless of course, the blogger in question is accustomed to receiving such payment ALL THE TIME, in which case, it could become standard for that blogger. In which case, folks would begin to ignore his/her review, huh?

So tell me again why this is a bad thing?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s a bad thing because bloggers like Mike would have to disclose who is propping them up, who is paying them. Your opinion of this site might be different if Mike had to disclose financial relationships with the subjects of his discussions.

Think of a guy like Perez Hilton, who is rumored to take $xx,xxx payouts from third string celebs to keep them in the press. Having to reveal this relationship would change everything.

PRMan (profile) says:

What about publications like PC Magazine...?

I have suspected that they have been “bought” for years. For instance, they picked Norton Anti-virus #1 in a year when everyone else picked them last. Coincidence? Not likely when you saw the full page ads that they were running for Norton.

Are “professional” sites going to have to reveal this as well?

Brooks (profile) says:

Re: What about publications like PC Magazine...?

I worked for several years in the IT publishing industry (not PC Magazine). And I can assure you that every single positive or negative review generated plenty of emails insinuating stuff like that.

However, I never saw that kind of causality. What usually happened was that a positive review was picked up on by vendors who would then run ads referencing the (weeks or months old) review. And a negative review would cause advertisers to pull their advertising in protest. So you can see how, in my experience, ad pages are a result of reviews and not the cause.

For my part, writing reviews and working at least tangentially with maybe 150 reviews over four years, I never saw even a tiny shred of pressure (or even notification of increased/decreased ad buys) from the sales/marketing side. I expect that’s the general case, even if there are exceptions.

Even low end wanna-be journalists, like I was, hate being told what to do and would yell and scream from the rooftops if there was revenue pressure to produce particular review outcomes. It’s an easy and kind of glib conspiracy theory, but I’ve been places where I would have seen it in action, and I’m here to tell you that it just don’t happen.

bishboria (profile) says:

what about politicians?

So if bloggers have to declare their relationship with products/services they are endorsing/promoting, surely politicians should have to do the same, if not more!

They are of course deciding how the population lives based on their decisions, rather than just something they purchase.

How often have politicians/political parties been bought by Big Media/Business to promote laws that benefit corporations, rather than individuals?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I should think that is clear. The FTC can fine companies who paid/promoted a review when the reviewer does not disclose being paid, since the company was part and party to the failure to disclose. The reviewer will then not get paid again. The government wins by collecting fines (and it begins to get clearer…)

Thinker00 says:

Appropriate Disclosure

It is relevant and appropriate for bloggers to denote external influences and biases in their postings. Someone who is looking to receive free music may artificially endorse a song or artist to maintain their free lunch, while buyers are encouraged to spend their hard earned cash based on less than objective reviews. No different than truth in advertising (no laughing, please)…

I do believe that there are many other sectors in media that need the same regulation applied to their practices, ranging from the ‘news’ not having to contain any truth, to product placements in daily TV programming that influence the young (or naive), to advertising in conjunction with children’s programming design to teach our kids to nag at just the right level to get that new toy without getting punished ($2B investment by advertisers).

We are innundated with product placements, half-truths, and flat out lying designed to keep our wallets empty. Giving a free hand to caveat emptor and profit motive (aka greed) is hardly in public’s best interest. It takes $Millons to influence modern America, and only corporations have the resources, resulting in the loss of our sense of shame and dignity in the name of consumerism (we can be bought).

Regulation is needed to keep some sort of balance, though I think scrapping the corporate system would do far more good for the economic and social health of the nation. Small steps…

Anonymous Coward says:

I think it isn’t just a question of product reviews, but companies / groups paying for posts about their cause.

So as an example, a conservative think tank sends a check and says “review this book” or “write something nice about Rush Limbaugh”, then it would appear the money needs to be declared. If you run an anti-copyright news site, and certain groups are hiring your to give presentations, paying for airfare, hotels, and such, perhaps you might be obliged to disclose that as well.

It would be in the same manner that CNBC reporters are often required to refer to companies as “owned by our parent company” or other, to give full disclosure.

I don’t think this is aimed as much at product promotion, as much as political promotion and action groups.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Pant Pant....sorry I'm so late today...

“Almost all book and music reviews in the mainstream press involve the books and music being sent for free – and there’s never been any question of impartiality of most of those reviews”

Okay, first of all, to your larger point you’re absolutely correct. There shouldn’t be any difference between product reviews based on the product.

But I have to question how much music and book reviews you’re reading (particularly with fiction writing) that you think the objectivity of the reviewers isn’t questioned. It is…constantly. It’s fairly well known in writing/reading circles that certain papers/reviewers have certain relationships with certain publishers.

okwhen (profile) says:

Full Disclosure

Anytime someone is providing ones personal or professional opinion concerning advertising, full disclosure should be required. One person mentions the mp3’s provided to reviewers. I guess they either are two young, or have forgotten how record labels bribed radio station and DJ’s too only plays their songs. I also think people have forgotten if something repeated enough, it becomes true.

Corporations are employing top psychologist and deploying their skills on consumers. From what I have read on theses sites, consumers are ill equipped and unaware of these practices. For instance, people are purchasing logo products that perform corporate advertising. Any person with cognitive process would never pay a corporation for the privilege of advertising their products. Therefore, my vote is yes solely because these asinine people require as much help as possible.

Elroy (user link) says:

Re: Full Disclosure

Wait, so if somebody reads a review of a new music album which turns out to be bad it’s the fault of the corporation for advertising and sending out demos for review?
Shouldn’t it be up to the consumer to sample the product before purchasing? Or checking reviews from multiple sources? Or is every reviewer and blogger seceretly in the pocket of “big business?”
You crazy anti-corporate guys are all the same…

Mike says:

FTC Jurisdiction?

If the FTC has jurisdiction to regulate blogging, do they also have jurisdiction to regulate direct person-to-person speech?

To be absolutely safe and 100% compliant with this new regulation (instead of relying on the case-by-case “dude, we’ll be cool about it” assurance), must I now disclose to friends over dinner that the book I liked arrived in the mail for free from the publisher?

Anonymous Coward says:

The problem I see is what does this do to internet anonymity. If I blog about something anonymously and I have no ties and someone accuses me of having a financial conflict of interest can my identity be revealed to anyone?

But I do think the law is a stupid one and is just another attempt at having more control over blogs for the end purpose of eventually eliminating freedom of speech on blogs and making it more expensive to administer a blog without knowing many many laws and taking classes on what you can and can’t say and what you can and can’t do and complying with many complex rules and regulations that make it more expensive and difficult.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Almost all book and music reviews in the mainstream press”

AHA, so the real purpose is to somehow give mainstream media a government sanctioned unlevel playing field. Figures. This may not do it all at once but if you keep adding laws that apply to blogs and not the mainstream media pretty soon one would need a Ph.D. to know what can and can’t be said on blogs and the barriers to blog would be increased. Then the rules would be so convoluted and corrupt that blogs won’t be able to legally blog about them and no one would really be able to discuss why and mainstream media would have an unfair advantage and blame it on some fake nonsense like, “blogs are economically unsustainable” when in fact it’s the government that causes them to not exist.

Anonymous Coward says:

You know what this could also lead to. If I give a good review of a book and some corporation doesn’t like me in general they can send me the book in the mail or even falsely accuse me of not disclosing my conflicts of interest with them and hence I can get in trouble. Imagine if I buy a book and the corporation later sends me it and I NEVER requested it, must I disclose the fact that they sent it? Perhaps if I burned it then I can disclose, “yes, the corporation sent me it but I burned it as soon as I received it” to prove that I don’t have a conflict of interest and it’s the corporations sending me stuff without asking my permission.

Anonymous Coward says:

The underlying reason could also be so that the FTC can further establish itself as an authority that can pass these sorts of laws and to get us more used to accepting them as an authority that passes these sorts of laws. Sure this law maybe not that bad (though it’s not really a good or needed law) but they probably want to pass evil laws meant to serve corporate interests at public expense in the future and this is just a way to get us more used to them passing these sorts of laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

Opening at the FTC....

Laws will apply when they not only apply to the first, second, third and all the amendments, but also the Preamble.

Now if you want to challenge the Preamble itself, well, First of all, you’re a crappy lawyer. Secondly, your a crappy lawyer. Thirdly, your a crappy lawyer. Fourthly, who appointed you to your position? Because apparently who ever appointed you to a position of power is an idiot and I want to kick their ass. A good ol’ fashioned Chicago Beat-down. You’re too stupid to hold your position. Tell you what, Give me what. Just give me a name, and I’ll invite you to watch.

Yeah, Bring Bill Richards back again. You still have no idea what the hell you’re doing.

Anonymous Coward says:

I expected all the commenters who apparently didn’t read the actual policy, but it seems a little strange that Mike didn’t seem to read it either. The rules appear to apply to everyone, be they bloggers, magazine reviewers, crazy men on the street…anybody. If you are paid by an entity and then say positive things about that entity, using any medium (blogging, magazine, smoke signals, whatever), you must disclose that payment alongside your positive words. They specifically mention blogging because applying to bloggers is something new which was not covered in the past.

The result will be predictable…if this has any effect, it will be to make astroturfers take extra steps to ensure anonymity, and when they don’t do that they will simply be paid to say negative things about their competitors instead of positive things about their employers (which appears to not be covered).

It’s certainly reasonable regulation in this age of anonymity, where you don’t really have the option of typical means of verification. Is “ChargersFan05” trustworthy? You don’t really have your ordinary means of determining that, and this regulation could help. Of course, it’s also mostly unenforceable due to anonymity, so it’s mostly a useless feel good measure.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:



Note, the guides haven’t been updated since 1980 but now that blogs are around they all of a sudden want to add rules, specifically to blogs or word of mouth advertisers, that never have and do not apply to mainstream media. They want to single blogs out, that’s the whole purpose of the law, and if you continue to read further it becomes more and more apparent. They want to stifle word of mouth endorsements so that mainstream media can advertise overpriced nonsense that doesn’t work and charge you monopoly fees for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You know, as I actually read through the guidelines they seem somewhat more reasonable. Still, they probably are unnecessary but now I’m not as much against them. I guess it’s just suspicious that nothing was updated until 1980 and now all of a sudden they want to update it after blogs and such became more popular. Still, I see much opportunity for this to be misused by the government to hinder free speech that they shouldn’t or to give a pretext for the government to pass more laws that are designed to hinder free speech while only helping out “mainstream” views.

y8 says:

Why is it important

I think there are 2 points here.

1) I agree that over time a re viewer’s bias will be revealed. I think that this protects the one-time reader who is looking for information about a particular item. Say I want to buy a camera and I search for reviews on cameras. I don’t regularly read camera reviews, so I don’t know that a particular reviewer is in bed with Canon. I read a glowing review for some crappy Canon camera and I buy it based on a biased review — cheeseit (that’s how it’s done).

2) This seems to be an anti-fake-viral marketing ruling. We’ve seen time and time again that companies are paying people to start viral marketing campaigns. Some are caught with their hand in the cookie jar, but I’d bet that more get away with it than don’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

Put the Strawman Away

Is every blogger who reviews a book going to have to disclose where they got it?

Why would you even ask such a question? Strawman much? The rule only says they have to disclose it if it was given to them in return for the review. If they went out and bought it on their own, no, they don’t have to tell everyone where they bought it and I find your suggestion to the contrary to be very disingenuous.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Put the Strawman Away

A blogger who buys a book does not ‘receive’ it…

Well, if I paid for a book then I think I’d expect to receive it. If you don’t expect to receive the things when you buy them then I’ve got a bunch of stuff I’d like to sell you. Hey, how about a really good deal on a bridge?

Mike clearly implied the blogger did not buy the book to everyone who was not looking for a tiny issue to quibble about.

I think Mike was quite clear in what he wrote. Truth is only a quibble to fanbois.

Anonymous Coward says:

Oh, I See,,,

If someone is constantly blogging positively about stuff they get for free, they put their own credibility at risk, as people realize that the products aren’t actually very good. It seems like the type of situation that sorts itself out.

That’s kind of like saying we don’t need any laws against any kind of dishonesty because if someone is constantly dishonest then they will be putting their credibility at risk and the situation will just sort itself out.

So let’s just get rid of all the deceptive trade practice laws, fraud laws, truth-in-advertising laws along with all the other so-called “white collar crime” laws and let the situation “sort itself out”? What are you smoking, anyway?

For someone who rails for transparency in gov’t, you seem to have quite a double standard when it comes to marketing. Wait, do you have a backgound in marketing?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Well, it also says

“Example 8: An online message board designated for discussions of new music download technology is frequented by MP3 player enthusiasts. They exchange information about new products, utilities, and the functionality of numerous playback devices. “

So it doesn’t seem to be limited to just bloggers, it seems to extend to online content more generally.

Also seems to include infomercials (example 6).

I, however, don’t mind example one so much about drug companies and drugs.

Bryan Price (profile) says:

Blanket statement.

I’m thinking about a blanket statement on my blog (currently unavailable, it got hacked evidently, and I’m waiting for the host to get their sh–, er crap together so I can see what went wrong) that basically states that products that I talk about on my blog may or may not be covered under the FTC guidelines and see if the FTC comes after me. Because I’m quite sure that I haven’t been paid a dime for anything I’ve written.

Anonymous Coward says:

This would be a pretty useless regulation if you could get away with a “may or may not” disclaimer. I’m pretty sure what they’re looking for is a “I definitely was compensated” admission, not “I may or may not have been compensated” weasel-words.

Needless to say, if you’re quite sure that you haven’t been paid a dime, you don’t need a disclaimer, because the regulation only applies to those who have been paid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Before jumping into the fray and criticizing, it is useful to understand the process by which federal rules are created and promulgated.

Under the Administrative Procedure Act federal agencies are required to first provide a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” that is published for public comment. This was done in this case, with those submitting comments being almost exclusively associated with ad agencies.

Once comments are in hand, it is incumbent on the agency to take each of these comments into consideration and either change a proposed rule to conform to relevant issues raised in the comments or else explain in detail why the comment is lacking.

Once a proposed final version of the rules are crafted they must be submitted to OMB for approval, and in particular OIRA, which is tasked to ensure the rules conform with pertinent Executive Orders governing federal rulemakin.

Only after successfully running this gauntlet is an agency permitted by law to promulage the rules as final rules. Even then their promulgation must be noted in the Fedral Register with a date the rules may enter into effect. This is to allow aggreived parties to have yet another bite at the apple so that such parties can pursue appropriate remedies under law.

These rules address endorsements using some of the new means availble to facilitate advertising. To cry that these rules do violence to the First Amendment is simplistic and in many instances clearly overstate the scope of the rules.

If one is inclined to take issue with such rules, it certainly helps to first read the rules and form your own independent opinion. The rules can be found at:


Read them and then ask “Is the sky really falling?” as extremists and alarmists would have you believe.

iamchmod says:

FTC Does NOT make laws - they make "Guidelines"

The FTC does not make “laws” – The FTC makes “guidelines” and then shakes down companies that they feel do not follow the guidelines. The shaking down works well, particularly because its very expensive and time consuming to fight the FTC in court.

Notice this section of their endorsement press release:
“The Guides are administrative interpretations of the law intended to help advertisers comply with the Federal Trade Commission Act; they are not binding law themselves. In any law enforcement action challenging the allegedly deceptive use of testimonials or endorsements, the Commission would have the burden of proving that the challenged conduct violates the FTC Act.”

To summarize, they can shake you down and threaten to take you to court and you can settle then or you can fight them in court and get the court to actually interpret the law and thus see if the FTC “guidelines” fall within the law.

From my research most of the time when the FTC actually goes to an actual court (as opposed to badgering companies to settle), they rarely win. Usually their “guidelines” stand unopposed and they use the might of their bureaucracy to shake money out of companies who don’t have time/resources/energy to fight them.

Greg (user link) says:

It's ridiculous

I believe the FTC new rules are just stupid. They are obviously just trying to find another way to make money off the public.

Do you really think they care about consumers?

How stupid do they think consumers are?

I think we as consumers can figure out on our own good judgment whether or not a product is worth buying or not.

The FTC needs to stay out of it.

NoLimitList.com (user link) says:

Just Use My Offshore Ad Service Instead

I hate posting comments on other people’s sites to promote my business, but I feel passionately about this issue. The Constitution gives you the right to say whatever you think about anything as long as it is true and is not intended to incite violence (ex: “kill that guy or the fire in this crowded theater will burn you alive”).

In response to this I want anyone opposed to this attempt at oppression to post ads in contradiction to this false so called rule because it is not a valid law any more than Mohammed is a prophet. That is because Mohammed is a false prophet just like Jesus and Moses who would not be worshiped by anyone if it were not for deity’s trying to act like the FTC.

Again I might be an American, but I use offshore servers to assure myself and my users that we are outside the jurisdiction of the FTC and other oppressive elements of the Obama regime. This does not mean that a voice may falsely claim that we are subject to a fine followed by the sound of a gavel, but no matter the statements of or job title of whoever holds the gavel they are subject to our rules if they want anything from us and our rules will not bend to them.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...