With the rise in power of blogs, also comes responsibility. By late summer, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) plans start monitoring blogs for non-disclosure of free products, sponsored posts and affiliate links. Since the rise in popularity of using blogs to research products, many readers have been unclear or even unsuspecting that the blogger may have received products or money for the endorsement. Until now, the guidelines on how to deal with free items have been loose or non-existent. Bloggers may not realize that non-disclosure is unethical, and in some cases feel that disclosure is not necessary.
In a quote from Associated Press, “If you walk into a department store, you know the (sales) clerk is a clerk,” said Rich Cleland, assistant director in the FTC's division of advertising practices. “Online, if you think that somebody is providing you with independent advice and … they have an economic motive for what they're saying, that's information a consumer should know.”
This new disclosure requirement will become a standard in the US, and I believe it will also start to be required in other countries shortly thereafter. Whether you blog from the US or not, watching this FTC move unfold will probably affect you in the near future.
Disclosure doesn't have to be a big deal
Personally, I had always been a fan of disclosure. I used to disclose affiliate ads, but saw that no one else was doing it, so I stopped, though there is a list of which affiliate programs I actively use on my right sidebar, I generally don't disclose in the body of a post . Going back to disclosing affiliate links won't be a problem for me, but it will be interesting to see how they specify how it should be done.
In an article back in January about receiving freebies ethically, I posted this recommendation:
“While a universal code of ethics may not be established for blogging…. yet. It’s common practice to disclose anything received as a gift, any samples, anything free. While no one is required to post just because a free product was involved, if a post and a free product is involved, so should a disclosure. It doesn’t have to be in big pink letters, but it can be worked into the body of the text. “I received this from____,” or “_____ sent me this lovely gift” is fine. Transparency is vital in building trust with readers, they have a funny way of detecting dishonesty, so in order t to build a positive reputation, then disclose, disclose, disclose.
Actually, I really don't think it's a big deal, it's a big deal if you're doing something shady, but if you're not… it's just a matter of typing in a few words, more often than not, your readers won't chastise you for it, as long as you keep your voice authentic.
Here's a link to the proposed guidelines: http://www.ftc.gov/os/2008/11/P034520endorsementguides.pdf
I'm sure they'll be more thoughts about this in coming months.
What do you think about disclosure? Is it really a big deal?