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The FTC, Blogs, Links, Display ads and AdSense

     
8:03 pm on Jun 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

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There are a couple other threads around about this, but if you missed those....

The FTC is talking about regulating blogs. But AP article [google.com] indicates that even using display ads or posting affiliate links might qualify for regulation.

How would this affect publishers who use AdSense on blogs or other sites.

8:09 pm on June 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I have found that my voice is not heard, ever. So I don't care until it becomes law. I can't do anything about it.

Just roll over and play dead like me.

8:35 pm on June 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Not borrowing trouble or worrying about it till I need to.
9:43 pm on June 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Long political experience has well taught me that if you can nip something in the bud, cut it off at the pass if you will, is at least 1,000 times easier than trying to have it reversed once enacted.

Yes the voice of the "little people" is usually listened to if you present sensible cogent arguments. [added] Remember there will always be folks with legitimate opposing arguments as well.

Simply saying "I don't like this" merely gets filed.

If you present ten points and win on five, then that's a great political victory. True. Old political axiom "half a loaf of bread is better than none".

Trust me and don't forget to vote early and often.

[edited by: IanCP at 9:44 pm (utc) on June 24, 2009]

10:45 pm on June 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Sounds like somebody at the FTC is overreaching and is awaiting a whack upside the head by the commission's lawyers. Freedom of the press (which is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution) applies to bloggers just as much as it does to newspapers, magazines, or TV networks--none of which are required to disclose their freebies or advertiser relationships.

Mind you, some media do disclose potential conflicts of interest voluntarily, but only to a limited degree: When was the last time you saw a TV network sportscaster announce that he got free tickets to the game, a car magazine's editor admit that he didn't buy the Prius that was featured in the June issue, or a newspaper's book reviewer confess that he didn't buy the book?

4:25 pm on June 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

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a car magazine's editor admit that he didn't buy the Prius that was featured in the June issue

Since he didn't get to keep it, why should he? As for the sportscaster, do viewers really assume that they have to pay for admission before they broadcast the game? And book reviewers can't review a book unless they have it in their hands, or at least an ARC (Advance Review Copy--a paperback) of it.

I'm not sure about this issue, but I think you're overstating the case against what the FTC is proposing to do. If someone posts a glowing review of a television and then earns for each purchase of it, that's a little different than someone writing a review for a newspaper. That person gets paid for their work by the newspaper. Reviews that earn the reviewers money for purchases are an indirect kind of advertising, IMO.

Personally, I have had information on my site for years about my relationship with AdSense and with the few affiliate programs I feature, because it's the right thing to do. Anyone with a reasonable and reasonably prominent statement of such relationships has nothing to worry about.

4:44 pm on June 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I'm not sure about this issue, but I think you're overstating the case against what the FTC is proposing to do.

I am sure about the issue as it applies to a "free press." Commercial free speech is iffier, so I wouldn't be surprised if (for example) the FTC could require affiliate sites or e-commerce sites like Expedia to disclose when their editorial content generates sales. That's a whole different matter from requiring a blogger who got a free cruise to disclose that information.

Personally, I have had information on my site for years about my relationship with AdSense and with the few affiliate programs I feature, because it's the right thing to do.

I disclose such arrangements, too (or I let Google do it with its "Ads by Google" tagline, in the case of AdSense), but that's irrelevant to the question of whether the FTC can override the First Amendment. Also, as editors in traditional media know, disclosure statements are more for show than anything else: A tiny "Advertisement" at the top of each page in a 16-page magazine advertorial section probably isn't noticed by the average reader, but it allows the magazine to take the money while boasting about its "Chinese wall" between editorial and advertising.

8:12 pm on June 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I guess we'll have to agree to differ--I don't see how this overrides the First Amendment. They aren't proposing that someone posting an opinion on capital punishment has to disclose their links to death chamber contractors, or to political parties, for that matter.
2:16 am on June 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

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don't see how this overrides the First Amendment.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..."

3:41 am on June 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I don't see this as a free speech issue, since it does not limit what one can say. You can still say what you want, but you have to disclose, just as is the case with any professionals.

I am always amazed at how Americans tend to think almost any law that restricts or requires something is somehow unconstitutional. Almost ALL professions have conflict of interest and disclosure requirements. Those are clearly not unconstitional and are basically identical to this attempt by FTC. Likewise for the regulation of tv and radio.

I have no problem with regulation, just as tv and radio are regulated, BUT, the issue here is practicality of enforcement. When laws are hard to enforce they tend to be applied unequally and inconsistently.

6:07 am on June 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I am not sure I've ever seen any disclosure about how much a personality, say "Dr. Wayne Dyer" earns every time a book or DVD or Gigundo Enchilada of his is sold "to support public television" on those 5 hour infomercials that "non-commercial" PBS runs. Incessantly.

I just love it when he claims to be doing it to support PBS...

6:53 am on June 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

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coachm, I always thought that was the best thing about the US. (I am not American).

Back on topic:

Firstly, this is a change to guidelines, not the law. It is the FTC's interpretation of the law.

Secondly, if you read the actual FTC document [ftc.gov] it is quite reasonable. It applies to paid endorsements and similar connections between advertisers and people endorsing their products.

It will also force disclosure of interests in user generated content. All that astroturfing of Amazon reviews and various forums is going to get more difficult.

3:19 pm on June 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Well said, coachm. That was what I was getting at.
4:11 pm on June 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Secondly, if you read the actual FTC document it is quite reasonable. It applies to paid endorsements and similar connections between advertisers and people endorsing their products.

Most of the document is about endorsements or testimonials in advertising, but that isn't the topic of this thread. The part of the document that raises First Amendment issues comes near the end, where you'll find an example of a game blogger who gets free copies of games to test (in much the same way as a movie critic gets free movie tickets, a sportswriter gets free admission to games, and a book reviewer gets free books to review). One can argue that it would be nice for the blogger to disclose that he didn't pay for the games that he's reviewing, but requiring him to do so is a violation of the First Amendment. That's where the FTP is overreaching. Regulating the press (e.g., the blogger) is different from regulating advertising or "commercial speech" (such as an advertiser's use of testimonials in ads or a company's posting of phony testimonials on a forum).

6:03 pm on June 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

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So, signor_john, you would that someone who has created a web site that is nothing more than a subtly designed advertisement for a line of products, and is being paid for each product purchased on the site (or maybe just for actual ads about the product on the site) has not created "commercial speech"?

I think we just have different ideas about where the line should be drawn between "commercial speech" and "protected speech."

7:17 pm on June 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Purplecape, you're setting up and attacking a straw man. Read the FTC document's example of the blogger/game reviewer.