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Bloggers must now disclose if they got paid to write a review

October 5, 2009 |  2:20 pm

Ftc
This sculpture outside FTC headquarters is called "Man Controlling Trade." It was done in 1942, long before bloggers. Credit: FTC.
A blogger who reviews a product -- but leaves out the fact that he or she got a payment, high-value gift or free vacation to write the review -- could run afoul of new federal regulations on advertising.

The blogger rules, announced today by the Federal Trade Commission, are part of revisions to the agency's Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

The last time these guides were revised was in 1980, and of course back then there was no such thing as a blogger.

But bloggers are mentioned several times in the 81-page revisions. "The post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement," said the agency in a release. "Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service."

A blogger can, however, accept a free sample of a product for review purposes without disclosure, "provided that the product itself does not have such a high value that would make its receipt material (e.g., a car)," according to the revised rules.

There's nothing in the rules that specifies how the disclosure must be made. "That's left up to the endorser," said Richard Cleland, assistant director of the FTC's division of advertising practices. "It can be a banner, part of the review. The only requirement is that it be clear and conspicuous."

The new rules go into effect Dec. 1.

There are no penalties directly associated with violating the rules. But if a blogger constantly breaks them, the FTC could seek a cease-and-desist order.

If a blogger is thus ordered but continues to break the rules, it can run into real money. The fine for violating an order is up to $11,000 per incident.

-- David Colker (who was not paid by the FTC to write this post)

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