The FTC recently enacted new regulations affecting “bloggers” ability to review and endorse products on their websites. Though the new rules sound good in theory–the FTC is attempting to require all “bloggers” to disclose any payments or free products they receive from manufacturers–in practice, they will simply create more problems.
The first problem with this new legislation is that the FTC fails to define what a “blogger” is. While there may be a common understanding of the definition within our society, there are many different levels of “blogger,” and the lack of a proper definition will undoubtedly cause legal headaches if the Commission attempts to enforce their new regulations. The FTC has left the description so vague that a comment left on a retailer’s website could be construed as an infraction of the new rules. Apparently, the FTC sees no distinction between a major, for-profit blog like HuffingtonPost.com and a kid with an internet connection and an account at Google’s Blogger.com.
Assuming the FTC had actually defined exactly what constituted a blogger, there are still irregularities in enforcement. The FTC makes a flimsy case to exempt the so-called “Traditional Media” from the new guidelines claiming information about payments to these organizations “would not affect the weight consumers give to the reviewer’s statements.” Yet somehow we are expected to believe “if a blogger’s statement on his personal blog or elsewhere … qualifies as an “endorsement” …, knowing these facts might affect the weight consumers give to his review.” In reality, a major media corporation has far more to lose than an individual blogger who occasionally gets a free product. While bloggers may be happy they get to keep the product they’re testing, they aren’t necessarily expecting any future “payments” from the same company. In contrast, traditional media has a far more entrenched relationship with their advertisers. It’s much more plausible that a media reviewer would be “encouraged” to check a scathing review if it had the potential to endanger the company’s long-term relationship with the advertiser.
Finally, we get to the most ridiculous part of the new regulations. A violation of the new rules will reportedly garner an 11,000 dollar fine, but this fine will not likely be levied against the blogger. Instead, the FTC has decided to hold companies liable for any infractions. It’s unreasonable to require individual companies to monitor every blog posting about their products, and ensure that the new rules are followed. To hold a company liable for the actions of an individual with whom they have no actual contracts is completely ridiculous. It’s analogous to suing Dell because a criminal used one of their computers to run an identity theft operation.