Freebies Aren’t Free, According to the FTC

October 19, 2009 at 2:27 pm | Posted in News | 7 Comments

USA_federal_trade_commission_001Back when was still brand-new, I searched the Web for other blogs on similar topics. It struck me then that a lot of blogs with “green” and “eco” and such in their names had a LOT of threads enthusiastically praising products. Like … ready-to-eat vegan food. Clothes and decor made from recycled materials. Low-energy gadgets. I wondered why, if these sites were ostensibly about a certain kind of minimalism, they kept promoting merchandise to buy. Not that I’m a minimalist myself – I’m just not into shopping, especially when it involves paying retail for brand-new items.

At the time, I suspected that those threads on those blogs had something to do with free merchandise having been given to the bloggers in exchange for online publicity. Turns out I guessed right, and now the Federal Trade Commission is getting involved. Revisions to the FTC’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising announced today specify that “material connections” (such as or free products) must be disclosed by those who promote these products: ” The revised [guidelines] specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.”

According to ReadWriteWeb, “bloggers who fail to disclose that they have received freebies when they write about a product can now be fined up to $11,000 per post. … Because these posts are now officially considered endorsements, bloggers who receive freebies must now disclose this fact on their sites.” Nonetheless, “blogging Payola is unlikely to go away completely because of these new rules.”

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