Because That Whole Free-Speech-on-the-Internet Thing Was Just Keeping Us Down Too Long

Oh goody:

[F]ederal regulators are serving notice that if you stand to gain financially from the review you are writing, you should be upfront about it.

The Federal Trade Commission said on Thursday that a California marketing company had settled charges that it engaged in deceptive advertising by having its employees write and post positive reviews of clients' games in the Apple iTunes Store, without disclosing that they were being paid to do so.

The charges were the first to be brought under a new set of guidelines for Internet endorsements that the agency introduced last year. The guidelines have often been described as rules for bloggers, but they also cover anyone writing reviews on Web sites or promoting products through Facebook or Twitter.

We warned you about this last year. I particularly enjoyed the academic apologia in today's New York Times article:

When the guidelines were announced, many bloggers and users of services like Twitter complained of government overreach, and worried that they would have to disclose even tenuous connections with companies or services they wrote about.

But Jonathan Zittrain, a professor at Harvard Law School and co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said the commission's first enforcement action under the guidelines should be seen as good news by those who were concerned.

"This case sort of shows that what they have in mind is not the individual blogger or Twitterer, but rather a professional endorser," Professor Zittrain said.

Emphasis on the "sort of," I guess.

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  • ||

    You know, Borat had a lot of funny parts to it, but I think I laughed hardest when he was at a zoo or something and pointed at a giant tortoise and said "what type of dog is this?" in that stupid accent of his.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Is this a cat- in a hat?

  • ||

    But Jonathan Zittrain, a professor at Harvard Law School

    Wonderful. Can we just nuke that friggin' school already?

  • Paul||

    Jonathan Zittrain can shampoo my crotch. That is all.

  • ||

    Crabs? Again?

  • Paul||

    Yes, and every one of the little buggers is labeled "FTC".

  • Old Man With Candy||

    Head and Shoulders works really well for that. Cured my crabs. Remember that name. Head and Shoulders. In the convenient recyclable plastic bottle. Kills crotch rot AND it's Earth-friendly.

  • Paul||

    The New York Times has a financial interest in the New York Times, no?

    Has the Times ever or does it write anything positive about itself on the internet?

  • ||

    I missed the part where the first enforcement action foreclosed abusive enforcement actions in the future.

    Jeebus, but people like Zittrain devalue my sheepskin every time they open their yaps. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Mr. President.

  • LarryA||

    "This case sort of shows that what they have in mind is not the individual blogger or Twitterer, but rather a professional endorser," Professor Zittrain said.

    Actually it just shows that the government picked a slam-dunk for their first case.

    The individual-blogger case is waiting on someone to piss off a politician.

  • Paul||

    The individual-blogger case is waiting on someone to piss off a politician. anyone with a beef against the blogger.

    Fixed.

  • Paul||

    What pisses me off about this law regulation guideline is that it's a classic example of a provision that only works if "the right people are in charge". The second an oversealous administrator is in charge of the agency, the whole concept upchucks all over itself.

  • Neu Mejican||

    While there is a reasonable argument to be made that deceptive advertising regulation by the Federal Trade Commission is an overreach that intrudes on first amendment rights...if you allow for that regulation of deceptive advertising, guerrilla advertising techniques like this seem to fall within the scope of deceptive advertising...and the remedy (disclosure) is pretty mild.

    Pretending to be a happy consumer in a forum where consumers are looking for honest feedback from users of a product is a mild form of impersonation/fraud...where the 1st Amendment and this kind of speech part company is pretty fuzzy, imo.

    Of course the fuzzy boundary is usually where bad law is made, so...

  • ||

    While I agree that it's a form of fraud... I can't imagine an effective way to combat it that wouldn't be far, far worse in the long run than the fraud itself.

    It seems like the end of net anonymity would have to be involved on some level.

  • sAme GUy||

    O Noes!

    Dude!

    www.nanny-bot.argh

  • Paul||

    If you go to tourist traps in places like Mexico, various people will chat you up on the street about how great a place is and tell you you ought swing by, at some point along the way, you realize they're being paid by the establishment to bring in business.

    Everyone knows pornography when they see it.

    I own 100 shares in Chrysler corporation. I write an incidental blogpost talking about how much I love my Chrysler 300. Have I violated the FTC rules?

  • Paul||

    Oh, and I never saw Reason talk about it, but Philly has a new law where any blogger, ANY blogger who made a single dollar attributable to his site, must pay the city for a $300 business license.

    The government is gonna regulate internet speech through death by a thousand cuts.

  • Robert||

    But you don't have to operate that blog in Phila. Are they licensing the occupation of residents of the city? I think not! I'm sure it's the operation of the business that's licensed, and wherever that business is, it's not Phila.

  • ||

    I don't know how many lap dances I have had because the ...uh, entertainer said I was interesting, intelligent, nice and sexy, and probably had a big cock, only to find out that she would only gyrate on my gonads as long as I gave her Jacksons.
    Really, when is the gubermint going to start caring about my feelings?

  • ||

    so...err on the side of liberty while acknowledging that there is no grant of power given to the legislative branch to create a Federal Trade Commission.

  • ||

    "The Congress shall have Power...
    To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes; "

    They can do it by setting up a trade commission if they want.

  • ||

    Foreign

    To

    (the)

    Constitution.

  • LeSigh||

    It's sort of like libel in reverse, except truth isn't a defense.

    BzzAgent is well and truly boned.

  • ||

    Well G4 is soon to be fucked anally by the federal government. I wonder if Adam Sessler will drop some of his lefty naivety once that happens.

  • l0b0t||

    Good, serves G4 right for killing TechTV in the US.

  • Malletdiction||

    A recently submitted consumer review-

    Just released, "amnemonic" by aboombong, the follow up to the critically acclaimed "asynchronic" is an unrestrained masterpiece of experimental underground music. With elements of African and Asian folk & pop musics mixed with punk, noise, drone, ambient, and post-rock the album serves as a sonic mind eraser. This ain't pop music, but for fans of out-music of any stripe, you'll find something to like. Don't miss out on the best release of 2010.

    Courting disaster?

  • ||

    Information wants to be free

  • Almanian||

    Buyer beware, and all that.

    I guess this will be a A Good Thing™ for teh childrun and dimfucks who base their purchase decisions on interwebs comments.

    Cause Teh Advertizzing is Mind Control!!!1!!1

  • Robert||

    What's the big deal? So you disclose. Costs you nothing. Regardless of whether there ever was a FTC, aren't you committing fraud if you don't disclose a material interest in something you're promoting?

  • Old Man With Candy||

    No.

  • Robert||

    Then what is fraud?

  • Gary S||

    Fraud is deliberate harmful deception with the goal of material gain. So, if someone is paid to promote a harmful or defective product and harm occurs to someone as a result, THEN there is a crime, not before, and even then the victim has to prove that the promoter knew it was harmful and promoted it anyway -- otherwise, the originator of the product is liable but not the paid advertiser, whether it's a reviewer, blogger or ad agency. Being paid to express an opinion is called "journalism" these days (it used to be called "editorialism" but the distinction is so blurred as to be meaningless now) and no one in the media seems required to disclose the fact that they are being paid.

  • Old Man With Candy||

    A vital element of fraud is making a false claim. A vital element of the First Amendment is the phrase "...NO law..."

    It is NOT false that Head and Shoulders does a terrific job on my crotch rot and crabs. It's a wonderful product, coming in a convenient and recyclable plastic bottle. It's great for your crotch and Earth-friendly as well. Head and Shoulders.

  • smartass||

    Alternatively, people could not believe everything they read on the internet.

  • -||

    That would be too hard.

  • David||

    I don't believe you.

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