FTC to crack down on blogger kickbacks?

By Justin Mann on June 22, 2009, 7:26 PM
One of the best things the Internet gives to technology consumers is the chance to hear opinions from real people on what they feel about a certain product. Sites like Amazon and Newegg give small bits of space for user reviews, while reputable hardware sites often provide balanced analysis of new gadgets and bloggers are free to say whatever they want about any product. The latter has the FTC concerned, it seems, following a report that the agency may be heading down a path to crack down on “unethical” bloggers.

Many people might jump up and wonder what the FTC is doing even thinking about trying to stop a blogger from posting a product review of their own. It isn't the blogging that's the problem, though, but rather potential dishonesty behind it. The commission is concerned about people getting paid by companies or getting some sort of freebie, be it a free product, a free vacation or anything else in exchange for positive reviews – and not disclosing when they receive such freebies.

Should the FTC get involved at all, however? On the one hand, the proposed guidelines are intended to clarify existing rules against deceptive and unfair business practices by specifically including bloggers for the first time. On the other hand, though, many are worried that the rules will be too strict, even extending to the practice of placing affiliate links to earn a commission from product purchases, without giving readers a heads-up first.

What’s your take, should bloggers be able to take any kickbacks they want, and let readers decide whether or not they are a credible source of information?

User Comments: 11

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TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

There have been some recent, well-publicized examples of company representatives posting inaccurate "reviews" on both Amazon and NewEgg to promote their products. Personally, I rely pretty strongly on consumer reviews on those websites before I make a purchase (except for the cretins who rate a game zero stars having never played it and only it because it has DRM that they don't like).

So given that there's fraudulent postings going on and my consumer dollar is at stake, I don't have a problem with the FTC policing them as long as they don't overboard with it.

tengeta tengeta said:

This will just force them to use more scam like activities to make up for it. Sounds really dumb.

mileslb said:

NO! If you watch any financial programs on TV (CNBC comes to mind) the analysts must disclose if they own the stock they are talking about about, recommend, analyse, etc.

The reviewer on these blogs/ webstores should have to make some sort of disclosure statement too.

1. I am in no way associated/employed by Manufacturer X and I bought this product with my own money.

2. I am not associated/employed with Manufacturer Y, but I received this product gratis of the company to write an honest review for this Seller and others.

3. I am a contract blogger/reviewer for Manufacturer Z and I received this product gratis and I also get paid by according to how many positive posts I can make in a 30 day period. ;-)

Give the FTC the power to enforce proven dishonesty (now neccessarily the review, but not posting the association/employment question truthfully) with a stiff fine....say $25,000.

Darth Shiv Darth Shiv said:

Full disclosure then who cares if they get kickbacks?

Badfinger said:

Fake reviews, hmmmm that sounds very familiar... like most advertising.

Words like BEST, GREATEST, that no one should take seriously and should not be allowed in ads.

What really angers me, though?

These TINY unreadable fine print lines in TV advertising that they show for a mere 4 secs, tops?

I know they are there due to laws, but it's totally bogus.

FTC, you reading?

[This rant brought to you by a grant from the GREATEST and BESTEST ever male enhancement

thingamajig ever created.]

Captain828 Captain828 said:

If liberty of speech is going to get banned on the Internets, then we're all doomed.

Seriously now, I don't agree with regulating bloggers. If someone turns to a blogger for his opinion(s), then he either knows that said blogger's reviews are well made and sincere or he just accepts his style of bashing and/or boasting products.

If they were to start doing this, then they'll just end up with the same issue like the RIAA: too many suits!

Every person with internet (even dial-up!) can get up their own blog and start doing "reviews".

[Personal opinion provided courtesy of the Personal Opinion Corporation, ltd.

Disclaimer: a free meal was received for this Opinion®]

Guest said:

You can't believe everything you read. You can't believe everything you hear. You can't believe everything you see.

If people use this common sense, we really have no need to spend billion of tax dollars on FTC blog enforcement. Wait, someone's knocking on the door. I thinks it's the FTC police. They don't want me posting this.

Can someone bail me out?

Buckyg66 said:

Blogger Payolas? Hmmmm. I agree that people need to use a little common sense when reading something on the internets. A good blog will/should become popular and respected. The trolls will be detected and ignored.(Hopefully) It should not be regulated and if they try it will only get worse.

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Captain828 - I don't think regulating people and mechanisms who are deliberately trying to mislead you is a repression of Freedom of Speech. That's why we have truth in advertising laws. Same thing applies to bloggers or "reviewers" who post falsehoods in order to get you to buy their products.

raybay said:

I doubt there is anything that the FCC can do about it... Payola has been battled for 60 years without significant result. Laws are now against the FCC

The nice thing about the internet is that so many reviews are available, and so much information from so many sources that anybody who believes one blogger on one site is simply an *****.

There are no limitations on ******, because that would go against the US political system where ****** are plentiful and share places of high honor in our congress and senate and government offices.

JDoors JDoors said:

If the review is nothing more than a disguised ad created by a company engaged in the business of selling something ("trade" than the Federal Trade Commission is obligated to ensure the honesty of that trade to protect the consumer's interests.

Is this the beginning of the "slippery slope" toward government regulation of Internet content? Yup, sure is, but you all KNEW this was coming, didn't you? Depending on how you look at it, it's already started (with state governments in particular), with this being just another "slip" down that slope.

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