Breaking News: Feds Require Bloggers to Disclose Product Endorsement Connections

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?


6 Responses to “Breaking News: Feds Require Bloggers to Disclose Product Endorsement Connections”

  • I wonder if the real purpose of this legislation is to discourage companies from seeding the internet with fake blogs that act as fronts for the companies to sell their products. Maybe the gov’t doesn’t intend to regulate this behaviour (good luck regulating the internet!) but the law will be there as a tool that a company could use against another company if it feels that they’re are up to something nefarious.
    Just to be clear, I wholeheartedly support geneabloggers earning a living from genealogy but I really want some general indication on their blog that they have received merchandise or are connected in some way to the company. A general comment without details would be fine. There’s nothing wrong with being a professional reviewer.
    Evelyn in Montreal

  • Arthur says:

    I’m a blog reader, and I really don’t think much about influences on the blogger. I guess I have always assumed I was getting a straight thought, uninfluenced by friendly treatment from commercial interests. Perhaps it is so, but what does it cost to give me the information to think more critically about what I am reading? A blogger who discloses gets more respect from me, and it costs nothing.

  • Craig:

    Yes, you should disclose that you downloaded the guides free from the FTC.

    The real question here is how this will be enforced. There are not enough employees of the FTC to monitor all the blogs on the web.

    I imagine, it will depend on complaints.

    We can thank the “Mommy Bloggers.” That’s where this started.


  • Apple says:

    I’m seeing several bloggers already starting to put disclaimers at the end of their posts to the effect that they have no connection to whatever company/product they are writing about. Is this necessary? It certainly is annoying! The way I read this I would only have to include a notice if I had received something from a company.

  • Tapgenie says:

    Are there any implications for non-US bloggers? Are we affected if our blogs are hosted on US servers?

  • Apple says:

    I hate to think what enforcement of this new rule will cost me in tax dollars. I see these endorsements most often with the garden bloggers and you know they were given the product or paid for their post. Thanks for letting us know about this.

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