FTC to Monitor Affiliate Links in Blogs

In continuation of my earlier posted thoughts on the effectiveness of blog reviews, it seems appropriate to now turn to the Federal Trade Commission’s plans to monitor blogs for paid/biased reviews.

On Sunday, the Associated Press wrote that blogging, which continues blooming, “has taken on characteristics of community journalism — but without consensus on the types of ethical practices typically found in traditional media”. Journalists who work for newspaper and broadcasting companies “are held accountable by their employers, and they generally cannot receive payments from marketers and must return free products after they finish reviewing them”. Up until now the blogosphere has not been regulated by any such rules. FTC is about to change this, and the new regulation may come into force by the end of Summer 2009.

CNET News commented that for the first time ever, FTC will seek to enforce guidelines that would “ban deceptive or unfair business practices”. CNET continues:

The rules could be quite strict, even extending to the practice of affiliate links — for example, a music blogger who links to a song on Amazon MP3 or iTunes that earns an affiliate commission in the process.

Izea.com’s sponsored conversations are brought up as an example of a website that offers its contributors incentives — such as “free trips, products, gift certificates, or outright payments” — for coverage (see Ted Murphy’s reply here).

We are once again back to two questions: (i) that of disclosure, and (ii) that of authenticity. The question of disclosure was touched upon in earlier discussions about dropping affiliate links on Twitter (see “Damn Marketers. Affiliate Links in Twitter” post by Scott Jangro, and Shawn Collins’ “Affiliate Link Disclosure Manifesto” post, and comments under both of them too). I blogged a bit about authenticity (and how it’s connected with trustworthiness) earlier today. While there will be a need for policing, it seems that the end users are already doing a great job deciding who to trust.

Is the disclosure necessary, and will it help? Richard Koman, a lawyer and technology writer for ZDNet.com, believes it is and it will. He writes that, in reality, “the solution is simple enough: ‘If you buy this book through my site, Amazon pays me a few cents.'”

I do not view this FTC’s move as a potential cause of any major trouble for decent affiliates. There is nothing to be unhappy about. After all, the aim is “to crack down on false claims from bloggers” (italics mine). The subjects of (a) how exactly to word the guidelines, and (b) how to implement the effective policing do leave room for discussions, but overall, the FTC’s concerns are proper and this is a good move.

Other interesting discussions and articles on the subject may be found below:

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