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FTC Says Bloggers Must Disclose or Face Stiff Penalties

In what I believe is a surprising decision, the Federal Trade Commission decided that they will require bloggers to “clearly disclose any freebies or payments” they get from companies for reviewing their products. This is the first time since 1980 that the Federal Trade Commission has revised its guidelines on endorsements and testimonials.

What’s more important here, though, this is the first time that FTC rules have covered bloggers. This is significant because the US Government is actually acknowledging bloggers as being a source of information that apparently needs guidelines. It’s another step in the “acceptance” of blogging and blogs–which is a good thing.

Here is some information from their press release:

Under the revised Guides, advertisements that feature a consumer and convey his or her experience with a product or service as typical when that is not the case will be required to clearly disclose the results that consumers can generally expect. In contrast to the 1980 version of the Guides – which allowed advertisers to describe unusual results in a testimonial as long as they included a disclaimer such as “results not typical” – the revised Guides no longer contain this safe harbor.

While this is certainly news to bloggers and an interesting turn of events, it is important to note that the Federal Trade Commission did NOT say “how” bloggers must disclose the fact that they have received a freebie or a payment. So, if you are a blogger, then you might want to read my post about the different ways that you can disclose that it it is a paid post (without actually saying that it’s a paid blog post).

The Federal Trade Commission says that their commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the final guidelines. What is important to note is that these are guidelines:

The Guides are administrative interpretations of the law intended to help advertisers comply with the Federal Trade Commission Act; they are not binding law themselves. In any law enforcement action challenging the allegedly deceptive use of testimonials or endorsements, the Commission would have the burden of proving that the challenged conduct violates the FTC Act.

Penalties are actually rather steep in nature, the fines for not disclosing paid posts are now up to $11,000 in fines per violation.

The rules take effect December 1st, 2009.

What is not immediately apparent to me is whether or not older blog posts are included in these requirements.

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