The FTC has taken notice of a disturbing trend: corporations buying blog press with free samples. This practice has been referred to as “blogola” in reference to “payola,” which was when radio stations did not disclose that they were paid to play particular songs. As with radio stations, the problem is not the samples themselves, but the blogs’ failure to make full disclosure of them when talking about the products in question.
Under new guidelines proposed by the Federal Trade Commission, brands and bloggers both may be held liable should either the FTC or scorned consumers deem that their actions or claims misguided them, or misrepresented the actual performance or efficacy of the product or service in question..
According to the FTC, the ability for a consumer to exercise better judgment and common sense is indefensible when a glaring absence of disclosure is pervasive.
Mary Engle from the Bureau of Consumer Protection explains, “We’re acting to ensure that bloggers don’t create a bias in the consumer decision-making process. Consumers just need to know that what they’re reading is technically an advertisement.”
It has always been TeleRead’s policy to make full disclosure of anything that might affect the credibility of its articles—and that includes whether the bloggers received free samples. If I were to receive a free smartphone or e-book reader, I would certainly mention that in anything I wrote about it, and I would expect anyone else who wrote for the site to do the same. (Not that I have yet; the closest I have come so far is my impending two-week trial of the PRS-700, and I will have to give it back afterward.)
It would be nice to see similar full-disclosure guidelines for e-book vendors that use Digital Rights Management—that they be required to post a notice of how the DRM on their works will affect consumers’ ability to make fair use of those works, and how much adding these restrictions adds to the cost of a book. Hopefully something like that will eventually come out of March’s FTC town hall meeting on DRM.