I need to start this by saying that in no way am I presenting this as legal council. I am not a lawyer, I do not want to be a lawyer. I am not a representative of any legal council either. If you have concerns about the legalities of that which I am talking about please seek the appropriate legal council of your choice.
For a long time now bloggers have taken excessive liberties in the freedom of laws that (lack existence) surrounding the internet and publication of blogs. Some argue that invoking laws that regulate the internet blogosphere is a denial of freedom of speech. Others believe that the internet has become a cesspool of spam and abuse and without legal regulations it will only get worse, much worse.
Personally I think both sides have viable and solid issues that warrant support. As a blogger myself I feel all bloggers should have a right to blog about whatever they want so long as it does not violate any laws - such as threatening to kill the president or posting illegal photographs within a blog. As a blogger I also feel that spam is out of control. Thankfully at the websites I blog at ( http://abela.me/[/url] and http://www.christianblog.com/ ) this is not so much of an issue due to their ability to control spam not making it into their website to begin with. I have tried to closely follow the stories of numerous individuals around the world who have been imprisoned due to their publications of blogs against their national leaders and governments. It is mind-boggling to imagine being taken to jail for something you write in a blog.
Recently the USA Federal Trade Commission took the first steps toward legally regulating what bloggers publish when they are writing blogs about product reviews. Think of it this way: almost since the start of blogging becoming a house hold name bloggers from around the world have used the medium as a means of talking about products they like, or do not like. In the early days of blogging this was something they did because they liked or hated something and they wanted others to know about it. Those earlier bloggers started a phenomenon that has grown to such a huge degree that companies now send free products to popular (and sometimes not so popular) bloggers in hopes that they will do a product review on the companies product. Many bloggers these days are able to make some very nice money doing product reviews, not to mention they get a lot of free and cool products.
But the question has been of late, how many of these bloggers out there doing product reviews are pushing out "good reviews" when in fact they actually think the product is a piece of junk, but they feel obligated to write a good review because they got it for free!
That is the issue that has been before the entire blogosphere for quite some time now and finally made its way to the USA Federal Trade Commission for review.
The determination: Yes, bloggers are writing reviews about products in such a way that it appears they actually like the product rather than the actual fact that they are nothing less than being representatives of the product. They also feel that online advertisers have taken things to far in regards to testimonials being dramatically overemphasized.
In a 4-0 vote the FTC said its commissioners voted to approve guidelines, which are not binding law yet, but rather interpretations of the law that will help bloggers and advertisers comply within regulations. These new rules, which are suppose to go into effect on December 1 2009, could result in a lawsuit. I am not sure how this will every be enforced and actually make it before a panel of peers or judges, but perhaps just the threat of a lawsuit will help decrease the amount of product over-hyping that is taking place on the internet these days because of bloggers.
What the USA Federal Trade Commission is going to require is that bloggers clearly disclose any facts related to if they received the product from a company for review, payments they get from companies for the review, and if they are in any way associated with the company for the product which they are reviewing.
In other words: man up and tell the truth! If you really like the product, great! But don't go flooding the internet with your over-hyped product reviews just to score more freebies or your next paycheck!
The FTC has also said that product testimonials have to be clear in what results the product actually produces. No more of this "you can loose 50 pounds in 2 weeks with our product!" that most of us know are totally bogus, but obviously some people still fall for.
Sadly, as far as I am concerned, it does not appear that the FTC will be making rules on the specifics of how bloggers must disclose their relationships with the companies. The assistant director of advertising practices division for the FTC, Rich Cleland, has said that the disclosure must be "clear and conspicuous," but who knows to what degree that will be. Does a blogger simply have to post one single blog about the fact that they are advertisement bloggers and never again mention it? I sure hope not. I would like to see a push for the enforcement of a disclaimer at the end of every blog published about a product indicating exactly what the relationship between the blogger and the product company have with each other, if any at all.
Assistant director Cleland has indicated that enforcement against advertisers who violating disclosure or testimonial violations would be targeted above the average blogger, with the exception of those bloggers who run a "substantial operation" and that continue to violate the FTC rules and have already received warnings. How these warnings will be issued, what legal consequences they might carry with them, it seems nobody yet knows. Cleland has said that a blogger who receives a free product without the product company knowing the blogger received the product would not violate these new FTC guidelines. Take for instance if I walked into a store and the store manager gave me a product to review. The product manufacture would not be liable at this point, because it did not directly provide the product with the blogger.
While this relieves the liability off the shoulders of the product manufacturing company it does nothing to stem the behavior of the blogger, if you ask me. A spokesman for the Consumer Federation of America, Jack Gillis, and I seem to agree on this matter. He thinks that the FTC does not go far enough to protect consumers from unethical bloggers. "Consumers are increasingly dependent on the Internet for purchase information," he said. "There's tremendous opportunity to steer consumers to the wrong direction." By going after bloggers he continued, "you put far more pressure on them to behave properly."
I could not agree more! It is time to bring an end to these bloggers who publish over hyped reviews of crappy products!
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