Tuesday, October 20, 2009

FTC to Cause More of What It Pretends to Prevent

So, by now, if you have anything to do with the blogging world, you know that the FTC has created some rules for bloggers. They claim their aim is to have bloggers who review products give full disclosure of any payments or gifts given to them in return for the reviews. Odd, free speech is free speech, even if it's paid for, and bloggers rely rather heavily on reputation in order to get into a position where they have enough of an audience to attract advertising, so they are unlikely to be stupid enough to trade it all away.

And so enter the FTC, who sternly say violation of their rules will mean a $11,000 fine and, at the same time, promise to be selective about who they pursue, thereby making the rule of law a joke and actually making a market for undisclosed blogger reviews that much more likely.

Why? Any business interested in getting a non-disclosed endorsement can just factor the $11,000 into their calculations! They don't even need to pay it outright; insurance or a promise to pay potential fines in the future. The FTC provides them cover by creating the appearance of a regulated market.

Obviously, this isn't going to mean much for most bloggers, but it does mean a lot to the bloggers with high reputations. If the audience is big enough to justify a high price, well, even multiples of $11,000 is peanuts to insure for, and ad money for something like this can easily be more than I make in a year. 'Just this once' becomes just a little bit more tempting because it is unlikely any one of these reviews will diminish the blogger's credibility. There will always be risk doing thing like this, but the FTC has just reduced some of the uncertainty.

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