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  1. #1
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    FTC plans to monitor blogs for claims, payments
    http://tech.yahoo.com/news/ap/200906...ie_disclosures

    Apparently, the FTC is expected to approve guidelines by the end of the Summer that will allow them to monitor bloggers who are in any way compensated for endorsing a product. This could be a product review or just an affiliate link posted on a website. The FTC wants bloggers to disclose that we are compensated via product sales or have received free products to review, etc, and they might investigate claims we make about products. Ludicrous govt bloat and invasive oversight -our tax dollars at work.

    But the part that REALLY scares me is this: "...the guidelines also would cover the broader and common practice of affiliate marketing, in which bloggers and other sites get a commission when someone clicks on a link that leads to a purchase at a retailer. In such cases, merchants also would be responsible for actions by their sales agents — including a network of bloggers. Amazon declined to comment."

    Merchants would be responsible for what affiliates say on their own affiliate sites? I can only assume that Amazon declined to comment because they are busy looking for a massive supply of pink slips. Am I reading this wrong? The state tax laws have already been enough to worry about, but this is a new level of repulsiveness.
    -Sharon

  2. #2
    ABW Founder Haiko de Poel, Jr.'s Avatar
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    The FTC will have a MAJOR impact on Affiliate Marketing this year.

    There is another initiative that will clean up much of the muck like one cause, but we won't discuss that just yet.
    Continued Success,

    Haiko
    The secret of success is constancy of purpose ~ Disraeli

  3. #3
    Analytics Dude Kevin's Avatar
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    I can't remember the name of the product (someone please help me here), but it provides a good template for writing an affiliate disclosure. I need to add one to my blog, regardless of the pending FTC business.

    It's just good practice.

    What was that name.....
    Kevin Webster
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  4. #4
    ABW Ambassador Georgie Peri's Avatar
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    Question
    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin
    I can't remember the name of the product (someone please help me here), but it provides a good template for writing an affiliate disclosure. I need to add one to my blog, regardless of the pending FTC business.

    It's just good practice.

    What was that name.....
    If ya find it let me know too .. ive started up some blogs and need to add in the disclosure too ..

    Would you put the disclosure on just one page? or have it like in the bottom of each page as a footer of some sorts?
    OpA! Giasou Ti kanies!

  5. #5
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    Overall, the article seems to indicate that some folks at the FTC simply don't recognize either the nature of traditional publishing or the absence of any genuine difference between traditional media and the Internet. As the article notes, bloggers sometimes receive freebies or incentives -- but the article incorrectly implies that ethical guidelines in traditional media somehow preclude the exact same practices by traditional publishers who either don't have or don't follow those guidelines.

    This is another example of a misunderstanding about what web publishers are -- I am no more a "sales agent" than my local newspaper or TV station. And once again, there seems to be a risk that the focus will be mistakenly placed on the structure of payment for advertising (without acknowledging that performance-based advertising has been used in traditional media for more than a century -- and I wouldn't be surprised if Benjamin Franklin accepted performance-based advertising in his newspaper or almanac even before the American Revolution).

    I suspect that a key concern might be "nutriceuticals," as many companies selling nutritional supplements turn a blind eye toward (and in many cases actively encourage) unproven health-benefit claims which would be legally actionable if made by the merchant.

    The FTC may also be (quite reasonably) be concerned about merchants who fabricate "stealth affiliates" -- creating web sites that appear to be independent but which are actually controlled by the merchant.

    The real issue is (or perhaps ought to be) the "line between advertising and editorial content." A web publisher who acts as a "promoter" by using "sales pitch" language on a "sales funnel" landing page looks a lot more like a "sales agent" than a web publisher who publishes product reviews and articles that more closely resemble traditional newspaper and magazine content.

    The use of deceptive practices are always a problem, but the First Amendment should protect non-deceptive practices by web publishers.
    Last edited by Markiphone; June 22nd, 2009 at 12:26 PM.

  6. #6
    Prince of Content Vinny O'Hare's Avatar
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    Very interesting stuff, could be a game changer for sure.

  7. #7
    Full Member snappy's Avatar
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    I don't understand, why does the USA want to put more people out of business? Seems like states like raising the unemployment rate with tax laws that put people with out jobs. Am I getting this all wrong and getting very angry for nothing?

  8. #8
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    If the government is so concerned about avoiding deception by requiring fuller disclosure, then let's require all government officials (elected or appointed) when casting a vote, to acknowledge which industries, companies, and lobbyists affected by the vote have contributed campaign contributions, gifts, travel junkets, etc.

    Legislators (and FTC commissioners) are "bought" far more often than online journalists, and the practice (and the absence of useful disclosure) causes far more damage to Americans.

  9. #9
    ABW Veteran Mr. Sal's Avatar
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    There are some good examples of the proposed guidelines on the 86 pages pdf file, that is linked on that site...

  10. #10
    More Cheesier Than Ever Cheesehead's Avatar
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    From article:

    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.

    That's the first I have heard of anything like this! Maybe a free $30 product (that is being reviewed), but a trip to Europe?

    And why target only blogs? Blogs are just websites with some software or programs to automatically create links, categories, and archives. An ordinary website, with some effort, could function the same as a blog.
    This World is Not My Home
    We're gonna go inside, we're gonna go outside, inside and outside. . . And then we're gonna go go go and we're not gonna stop til we get across that goalline! Quotes from the movie Rudy, 1993

  11. #11
    ABW Ambassador Georgie Peri's Avatar
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    Question
    Quote Originally Posted by Cheesehead
    From article:

    And why target only blogs? Blogs are just websites with some software or programs to automatically create links, categories, and archives. An ordinary website, with some effort, could function the same as a blog.
    Exactly what i was thinking .. what will determine a blog from a regular webpage ..

    Does blogs include the Millions on Facebook, Twitter, myspace who post updates on stuff they bought / disliked / movies they went to see etc etc??
    OpA! Giasou Ti kanies!

  12. #12
    Full Member snappy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Magi
    Exactly what i was thinking .. what will determine a blog from a regular webpage ..

    Does blogs include the Millions on Facebook, Twitter, myspace who post updates on stuff they bought / disliked / movies they went to see etc etc??
    I don't see why they don't take the money they are going to spend on this and use it to some good work like targeting the 100-200 spam messages I get every day, even if I opt out? You are right what will constitute as a blog, I always thought a blog was a public online diary of sorts.

  13. #13
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    It appears that the FTC is seeking to treat "the internet" differently from print media.

    From 1980 through 1990, I was primarily a journalist:
    • During college, I wrote for the college newspaper, and spent one summer working for Desktop Computing magazine (1980-1983);
    • The University of Massachusetts awarded me a B.A. degree in Journalism in 1983;
    • Staff reporter for BYTE magazines (1983-1984);
    • Staff reporter for InfoWorld magazine (1984-1985);
    • Freelance writer and reviewer (writing about a dozen product reviews for InfoWorld, plus freelance articles for a half-dozen magazines) (1985-1987)
    • I co-authored a weekly syndicated column for legal newspapers, reviewing technology products with a specific focus on their use in law offices (1986-1990).


    In 1990, I chose to pursue full-time work as an attorney. In late 1995, I created a web page to promote my law practice; by early 1996 I was once again functioning as a journalist, creating a web site to discuss and review web-advertising companies. Since 1998, I've mostly worked full-time as a web publisher, handling both the editorial (journalist) role and the advertising-sales role. I've tried to maintain the same general ethical guidelines in my online work as in my traditional media work. (Since 1997, I've also worked as a consultant, working with merchants to design and launch affiliate programs, PPC campaigns, and other strategies to grow their businesss.)

    As a journalist working for print media, I sought to work only for ethical publications, and once I abandoned an assignment and told an editor that I would no longer write for the magazine because of something that I perceived to be an ethical lapse.

    But "ethical guidelines" vary significantly between industries, publishing companies, and publications. For example, traditionally, "trade publications" have had less rigorous guidelines, and of course many publications (probably the majority in terms of raw numbers) have no written guidelines at all.

    While I worked for BYTE magazine, for example, the editor-in-chief responded to criticisms of ethics in the computer-magazine industry by changing the rules: previously, writers and editors were allowed to buy and own stock in computer industry companies that they did not cover; the new rule prohibited all ownership of computer-industry stock by any writer or editor. (A colleague was forced to sell his stock in Tandy, suffering a substantial loss because this happened during a cyclical downturn.)

    When I complained to the same editor that I found one advertisement in BYTE to be objectionable, he agreed and excluded the ad from future issues -- despite the significant loss of revenue.

    During that period, it was common for companies to challenge journalists and threaten to cancel their advertising, and several times large companies did cancel their advertising in magazines that wrote negatively about the companies. As journalists, we actually took pride in our companies when they refused to "give in" and make editorial changes in response to advertiser pressure.

    In our syndicated newspaper column, my co-author and I assembled our own set of ethical rules, including adopting the standard practice of returning all hardware products after review -- but like most publications, we retained books and software products (because they could not be resold, but also because we sought to make fair comparisons when reviewing competing products). If we continued to use software, we purchased a retail copy (for example, we both bought WordPerfect and paid for the upgrades, even though we received review copies).

    Several times (while writing the syndicated column), we were offered free trips (junkets) to visit a company or to attend company-sponsored events. We attended only one such event, and insisted on paying all our own expenses -- but dozens of editors and writers from other publications accepted the free trip, hotel room, and meals. I had a similar experience while working at BYTE: attending a "journalist education event" sponsored by a semiconductor company, BYTE paid for my transportation and hotel room, while dozens of other editors and writers accepted the entire trip as a gift.

    There are, of course, exceptions to these ethical guidelines, most of them involving "nominal value" items: a meal, a t-shirt, a duffel bag, or any of a zillion kinds of advertising-specialty items.

    But journalists know where their bread is buttered; journalists know that they should avoid displeasing either readers or advertisers. A writer working for a Macintosh-oriented magazine isn't likely to ever conclude that Windows is better for any use; a writer working for the New York Times is extremely unlikely to write an article about how much nicer it is to live in Atlanta (or San Francisco, or Minneapolis) than New York.

    And of course, many publications -- especially small local newspapers (the few that survive) and trade magazines -- have either no specific ethical guidelines, or very different guidelines than other publications. And many editors and writers "bend the rules" or simply ignore them.

    And some publications with strict ethical guidelines also have some practices that I think contradict the spirit of those guidelines; most significant, I think, is a very common rule of simply not publishing negative articles about advertisers (or sometimes, never publishing any negative reviews, sometimes on the theory that the product or service doesn't deserve any publicity).

    Another common "lapse," in my view, is the focus only on a subset of an industry: for example, reviewing only products from large, established companies and not from small startups; or reviewing only products that are sold in major stores, and not those offered only through mail-order, and certainly not products which can only be ordered from overseas.

    I think the best analogy to the "bloggers" whom the FTC appears to find so objectionable, are tiny local "free newspapers," whose staff and freelancers are allowed to accept free meals from the restaurants they review -- and of course, only restaurants that advertise are ever reviewed, and only positive reviews are published.
    Last edited by markwelch; June 22nd, 2009 at 03:17 PM.

  14. #14
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    Here's an example of disclosure/disclaimer language that I use on a web site that's mostly product reviews (analogous to a blog):

    > "Nobody pays me to write these critiques and commentaries, and I choose what I will write about. However, you should know that I do receive payment for the advertisements you see (currently, these are delivered by Google's AdWords service) and I also include links to merchants who pay me a small commission if you click on the link from my web site and buy their products. (Note that some ad-blocking programs, including Norton Internet Security, remove some of these links and any text inside them, which may be confusing if you read an article in which I mention specific merchants' products.)" <
    This language only appears on the privacy/security page, and of course is never seen by 99% of visitors.

  15. #15
    Domain Addict / Formerly known as elbowcreek Thomas A. Rice's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Markiphone
    If the government is so concerned about avoiding deception by requiring fuller disclosure, then let's require all government officials (elected or appointed) when casting a vote, to acknowledge which industries, companies, and lobbyists affected by the vote have contributed campaign contributions, gifts, travel junkets, etc.

    Legislators (and FTC commissioners) are "bought" far more often than online journalists, and the practice (and the absence of useful disclosure) causes far more damage to Americans.
    Yep.
    Following everyone else is a GREAT way to become average.

  16. #16
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    If the FTC only had its sights set on bloggers, I'd be less worried. Holding dishonest affiliates accountable is a beautiful thing. Disclosure wouldn't bother me so much. But the fact that they want to hold corporations liable for what bloggers write - what merchant would sign up for that kind of liability unless they had a very small crew of affiliates that they really trusted? Corporations will have to protect themselves from liability from the 5% of bad bloggers/affiliates, and (I think?) the only easy way to do that is to part ways with all bloggers/affiliates or to become awfully selective about which affiliates to partner with. Am I overthinking this?

  17. #17
    Analytics Dude Kevin's Avatar
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    Here's the place I was thinking of. http://disclosurepolicy.org/

    Ironically, I'll have to disclose that I don't recommend nor disdain them... just throwing their system out their for you to peruse.
    Kevin Webster
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  18. #18
    What's the word? Rhia7's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin
    Here's the place I was thinking of. http://disclosurepolicy.org/
    Thanks for the interesting link.
    ~Rhia7 -- Remember the 7
    Twitter me

  19. #19
    ABW Ambassador simcat's Avatar
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    Looks like another front is opening up in the war on affiliates (and/or free speech)

    Would this also mean someone won't be able to comment on a product (favorably) on someone elses blog? Or maybe now only negative comments will be allowed. I'm sure there are people willing to pay for those too...

    What about reviews on merchant sites. Do they plan to police those? I saw a report on TV a while back that said the majority of 'reviews' on travel sites were fake.

  20. #20
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    When ever I look for a review, I always search those out that are objective, what do I like and what don't I like. I avoid completely positive reviews out of hand if I can. I told my girl on our review site, we have to have some bad reviews or we just won't have legitimacy, so I told her, not just to return items without doing a review on it.

    Unfortunately, to many people don't take the time to question a site with nothing but positive reviews. I think many times we over estimate the intelligence of the common man. I appreciate what the FTC is doing just worry they are going to over do it.

  21. #21
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    And the cheering starts from the people sick of the scum of this industry overwhelming the honest with their misleading pitches and bs. I think most of you are blowing this out of proportion to how it will effect you, it is a tool to go after the bad players.

  22. #22
    More Cheesier Than Ever Cheesehead's Avatar
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    Now that I just took a look at some reviews I did, I bought all the products myself except for two - and on those reviews I already disclosed that they were given to me. The value of each was $20 to $30.

    Forgot to mention the all-expense paid trip to Europe though
    This World is Not My Home
    We're gonna go inside, we're gonna go outside, inside and outside. . . And then we're gonna go go go and we're not gonna stop til we get across that goalline! Quotes from the movie Rudy, 1993

  23. #23
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    M view is that for the honest affiliates, this will have zero impact...

    I write about a niche I like, and products that I would buy (or list products that "fit" the story, never mind an editorial). No one pays me to do anything, other than commissions earned, and my privacy statement indicates the affiliate status of my site.

    Having said that, I've often wondered how I would handle manufacturers offering me physical products to review..

  24. #24
    Full Member OICUAM2's Avatar
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    I partly blame Google for allowing the top three spots in most of their ad boxes to be taken up by "fake blog" sites that have fake personal stories about weight loss or government grants with a free trial that scams you into an unexpected huge charge on your credit card.
    [URL=http://www.investeverymonth.com]InvestEveryMonth.com[/URL] - Build Wealth

  25. #25
    ABW Ambassador CCBerries's Avatar
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    Every segment of the industry has players in either the grey area or just plain dirty. From merchants that either pay for articles or rely on affiliates to exaggerate or make claims about the products that the merchant can’t legally make.

    The FTC handles a lot of the enforcement for the FDA, and many of the industries that the FDA regulations cover have some real problems. As an example: the ‘diet’ and ‘supplement’ industries have had lots of problems over the years even at the manufacturer level, but when non-experts start rewriting technical documents or making claims that can’t be supported, the consumers are the ones that loose out.

    Even in an seemingly simple industry such as mine (chocolate) there are standards of identity set forth by the FDA on what is allowed to be called chocolate. There are also companies that use bloggers and affiliates to make claims that the product contains chocolate when it actually does not.

    Personally I’d love it if the companies that benefit from the technically incorrect articles, or provide deceptive information to affiliates, got called on the carpet.

    For the bloggers who accept some type of payment/commission for the reviews being clear that the article is really a paid advertisement is only fair. Why hide it?, it’s not a restriction of free speech but a responsibility of the writer to be truthful to the reader.

    Because of the industry I’m in, getting hit up for free product is a regular occurrence, basically we’d get a email or call with someone wanting free product in exchange for an article. I thought about it and decided that these were not unbiased reviews, this lead to the policy below ( from my site):

    ‘Press/Media Policy:
    With the rise of online publishing far too many organizations were soliciting free product for what amounted to limited exposure. While looking at the online publishing we also reviewed our policies on the other forms of medium (Radio, Print, TV...) and decided that if any of the reviews were to be independent of undue influence then all publishers should be held to the same high standards.
    We feel that all reviews should be independent, requests for free samples rather than a purchased product minimize the worth of the product and also create an impression of impropriety. As a result we do not offer free product for review, if the review is to have integrity, the product should be purchased through regular channels.
    Our policy is based on: The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics , section 4 "Act Independently"
    Last edited by CCBerries; June 24th, 2009 at 02:49 AM. Reason: can't spell worth a Sh**

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