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New FTC blogger-disclosure requirements

The vast majority of bloggers have no involvement in payola schemes, but often find themselves in situations where they could be accused of it.

The Internet Patrol has a detailed explanation of the new Federal Trade Commission rules affecting bloggers who write product reviews or endorsements. The bottom line:

“If you talk about a product or service, and if you put it out on or via the Internet, and if you stand to gain on it, you’d better disclose that relationship.”

I’m not a fan of the rules, but I certainly don’t intend to run afoul of them. They are designed to clamp down on bloggers whose positive comments about a company’s product or service result from undisclosed payments from that company.

But I continue to be puzzled by why the government, which has allowed mortgage con artists to rip off consumers to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, is so excited about protecting web users from inflated reviews of electronic gadgets and resort hotels. My objections:

1. It’s fairly easy to go online and find product reviews from reputable online sources or from sites like Amazon or TripAdvisor that allow unbiased customer comments. Having the FTC jump in to protect people who ignore those resources and instead make their purchasing decisions by reading Joe-the-Blogger is pure nannying.

2. Bloggers who give bad products or services good ratings will rapidly lose credibility, thereby scuttling their own reputations, popularity, and search rankings.

3. The vast majority of bloggers have no involvement in payola schemes, but often find themselves in situations where they could be accused of it. Try this scenario: I write a positive review of my hair stylist. A few months later, he sends a friend to me to have her website content written. That develops into a lucrative contract. If I don’t remember to go back to my blog post and update it with an explanation that he has sent business to me, I could be accused of getting a kick-back for my positive review of him. (FTC fine: up to $11,000.)

I think the online system polices itself. If the government wants to get into the consumer protection business, I’d suggest they do something about the company that sent me an official-looking letter yesterday telling me that my mortgage terms had changed and I needed to call them immediately.

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