Genea-bloggers who say anything positive about genealogical products from now on may required to disclose any “material connection” between themselves and the distributor of the product.
The Federal Trade Commission today adopted what it refers to as new “Guides” on endorsements and testimonials in advertising. The Commission’s 81-page document represents the first time in nearly 30 years that the Guides have been revised.
One of the most important aspects of the new Guides affects product endorsements in blogging and social media. The Guides contain a section titled “Consumer Endorsements,” and a section called “Disclosure of Material Connections.” The “material connections”‘ provision states:
When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that
might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (i.e., the connection is not
reasonably expected by the audience), such connection must be fully disclosed.
The FTC gives the following example:
Example 7: A college student who has earned a reputation as a video game expert
maintains a personal weblog or “blog” where he posts entries about his gaming
experiences. Readers of his blog frequently seek his opinions about video game
hardware and software. As it has done in the past, the manufacturer of a newly released
video game system sends the student a free copy of the system and asks him to write
about it on his blog. He tests the new gaming system and writes a favorable review.
Because his review is disseminated via a form of consumer-generated media in which his
relationship to the advertiser is not inherently obvious, readers are unlikely to know that
he has received the video game system free of charge in exchange for his review of the
product, and given the value of the video game system, this fact likely would materially
affect the credibility they attach to his endorsement. Accordingly, the blogger should
clearly and conspicuously disclose that he received the gaming system free of charge.
While I’m certainly sensitive about the ethical problems that may arise in these situations, I must say that I was generally not impressed on first take at the final Guides issued today. Overall, they seem to proceed on the notion that consumers are easily duped and are generally rubes at the mercy of advertisers. The Guides seem especially insulting to users of “new media” who are in fact are not unsophisticated babes-in-the-woods. But as I said, that’s just my first take on the document which I just received.
I and my administrative law students will study it over the next few days, and I’ll report back. By the way, if I “endorse” the Guides, will I have to disclose that I got a copy free of charge from the FTC itself?
October 5, 2009 Monday at 9:00 pm