Is the government coming after your mother’s blog? If she posts reviews of products she received for free, the answer might be yes.
In the course of updating its advertising and testimonial guidelines, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has floated the idea of regulating online speech. Internet writers who fail to disclose compensation they receive for products they review favorably could be held liable by the agency. The proposed guidelines don’t specify penalties, but current false advertising rules allow for punishments that include fines and forced corrective disclosures.
Who would be covered by the new rules? It’s not clear. The proposed guidelines say a college student who reviewed a new video game console provided by the company would be infringing if he didn’t disclose that he received a free review copy. But what distinguishes the student from a professional journalist who writes a game blog for a magazine? The commission doesn’t say.
Nor is it clear if there is a financial threshold for FTC action. So it’s unknown whether Amazon sales links, which may generate only a few cents’ commission per sale, would be subject to the new requirements. Mommybloggers—women who write about family life and swap parenting advice—are particularly peeved. Colleen Padilla, who blogs at classymommy.com, often reviews products she receives for free. She told ABC News that she would probably consult a lawyer to navigate the confusing new rules.