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FTC To Start Monitoring Blogs?

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This is a guest post by Brad Leclerc, who can be found at BradLeclerc.com

The FTC is gearing up to extend it’s regulatory powers into the blogosphere, and I, for one, think it’s excellent news…sorta.

You may have read something about it in the last couple days, but if not, here’s a snippet from an Associated Press article on the issue:

Savvy consumers often go online for independent consumer reviews of products and services, scouring through comments from everyday Joes and Janes to help them find a gem or shun a lemon.

What some fail to realize, though, is that such reviews can be tainted: Many bloggers have accepted perks such as free laptops, trips to Europe, $500 gift cards or even thousands of dollars for a 200-word post. Bloggers vary in how they disclose such freebies, if they do so at all.

The practice has grown to the degree that the Federal Trade Commission is paying attention. New guidelines, expected to be approved late this summer with possible modifications, would clarify that the agency can go after bloggers — as well as the companies that compensate them — for any false claims or failure to disclose conflicts of interest.

On the face of it, they are essentially planning to crack down on false claims and undisclosed benefits (financial or otherwise) that a blogger might get due to their posting something about a product/service/etc, whether it’s in the form of an actual monetary payment, or some free stuff, or whatever else, as well as certain types of scam and “fake” websites that only exist to post affiliate links and other ads and pass them off as unbiased.

That is a good thing, in my opinion. Though I, like many others it seems, really don’t think the FTC will be taking the right approach. It seems sloppy and practically unenforceable to go after bloggers directly for the most part.

The reason I say it’s practically unenforceable is simply this: There is usually no way for the FTC to know if a blogger has a conflict of interest or undisclosed benefit to posting something unless that blogger has mentioned it on the blog…in which case it would have been disclosed, and so wouldn’t be an issue.

A much better way to go about fighting this problem would be to target the people and companies giving out the money and other benefits, instead of the bloggers themselves.

Arron Wall has an awesome post about just how sloppy and useless the FTC’s apparent approach to the problem is, called “FTC Going After Bloggers = Epic Fail“. He outlines a lot of examples of just how silly “bottom-up” enforcement of these problems is, and I completely agree with them. They need to “follow the money”, so to speak, and hit the problem head on at the source.

I’m sure it’ll have SOME effect (including likely harassment of a lot of perfectly innocent bloggers), but I don’t think it’s likely to actually help anything very much. It would be MUCH more helpful for these new regulations to target the sources of the services/products/etc that are instigating (or at least knowingly allowing) fraudulent and/or misleading content to be posted on their behalf, and paying for it.

This could be a really good way of fighting some of the more serious spam and deceitful content online if done right, but sadly I have serious doubts that the FTC is up to the job.

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