If you are a blogger and you post product reviews on your blog, you may have to answer to the FTC starting in December. An article in the New York Times earlier this week outlines a new Federal Trade Commission regulation currently under review which, if approved, would tighten the rules of disclosure that must be followed by those who post their opinions about products on their blogs.
The details are incomplete, but early reports include that blog authors who post product reviews on their site must disclose if they have received any gifts (including free products or software) from vendors whose products are reviewed on that blog.
While on the surface this measure of consumer protection may seem like a good idea, it seems to me that it is an unnecessary waste of time and legislative effort. After all, we’re talking about blogs, which represent the opinion of the author. A blog post is a far cry from a story on the evening news, and rarely does a blog claim to be an unbiased source of objective information. I have a hard time seeing the potential for consumer harm here; reasonable people will not read a source that is by definition a biased perspective and expect unbiased facts.
This regulation is likely aimed at the prolific and popular bloggers who have the greatest scope of influence. However, there is a reason those people are popular; if they continually dispensed bad advice (through product reviews or otherwise), they would never have made themselves known. The fact is that bloggers with a lot of followers have achieved their success because they have interesting or useful opinions. To that end, it’s a self-regulating media outlet.
Further, this proposal is a bad idea because it would be expensive to investigate and difficult to enforce. Those responsible for finding violators would have to search through a mountain of data, including tax records (of the blogger as well as the vendor) to prove an undisclosed relationship, and any fines collected from violators would be vastly outweighed by the costs of investigation and eventual litigation.
Would it be an easy task for compensated bloggers to disclose relationships with product vendors? Absolutely. But I don’t think it’s the job of the FTC, or any other government entity for that matter, to police opinions by enforcing that disclosure.