Vol. 7, Issue 3, October 13, 2009
FTC Rules Mean End of an Era for Bloggers
The Federal Trade Commission on Monday took steps to make product information and online reviews more accurate for consumers, regulating blogging for the first time and ending what had been seen as one of the most stable money-making models on the internet.
"I think the regulation is an overreaction," said Jeremy Shelley, who runs a popular blog rating computer peripherals. "I have a real concern that the FTC is focusing on technicalities that can really impact free speech."
Shelley, like many bloggers with a decent readership and a focus on a particular product niche, routinely receives sample products from various companies to review. Under the new rules, he will have to disclose exactly what products and/or compensation he receives from each manufacturer.
"I'm a technical expert," he said, powering down the left bank of computer terminals in his spacious 'writing den.' "I can't evaluate products I don't have, so of course companies send me products to review. I like to think that I'm enough of a professional to give a fair review whether Dell sends me one laptop or fifty. The larger numbers, in fact, allow my evaluations to be more statistically precise."
Bloggers have long praised or panned products and services online. But what some consumers might not know is that many companies pay reviewers for their write-ups or give them free products such as toys or computers or trips to Disneyland.
"To hear the FTC talk, you'd think we lived lives of luxury," scoffed Shelley, as he got off his personal elevator into the western observation tower of his house. "I mean, sure, I admit it, there's the occasional trip to Disneyland. But often it's something a lot less pricey, like a trip to Europe or something. I mean, Europe. Come on. After ten or twelve trips, it really loses its luster."
The Consumer Federation of America thinks the FTC should go even farther in protecting consumers from 'unethical bloggers,' asserting that lack of disclosure is a big problem in blogs and that, despite the economic downturn, many internet entrepreneurs still make an extremely comfortable living through various forms of compensation from companies they write about.
"I disclose everything," protested Shelley, tossing a rabbit out the window and sending his pet leopard scampering away after the treat, its jeweled collar sparkling in the sun. "I mean, when Bill asked me to do a little writeup on Windows 7, I fully disclosed all of its excellent features, which that new Maserati Bill sent really allowed me to appreciate. You'd think this was some kind of huge racket from the way the FTC goes on. I just happen to offer honest opinions on electronic devices, and am fortunate enough to eke out a living from my trade."
"If only people could see the way I really do business," he said with a sigh as his butler helped him to step into his helicopter, "they'd understand."