FTC plans to crack down blogger freebies…and what that means to you.


Image by Pink Sherbet Photography

Image by Pink Sherbet Photography


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?

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37 Responses

  1. sunshine

    I think it is a great practice for all blogs/websites to disclose that the product that they have received was sent to them from the company or other representing agencies of said company. It also helps if the accompanying review of the product is done honestly and objectively. But if the blogger is getting paid by the company or representing agencies to post such reviews in order to promote the product the “review” should then be classified as an advertisement or a dedicated post in order to differentiate from the unpaid product reviews.
    All in all, I think its a great thing.

  2. crosby

    From a PR perspective I prefer for bloggers to disclose the terms of the relationship. Clients sometimes balk at this, they would prefer it to appear as though a blogger just happened upon their amazing t-shirt, which may happen, but more often its the result of a pitch. Guidelines such as these help support the conversation when I explain the value of transparency to clients. I think we also need to educate readers that just because you were given a free sample, it doesn’t denigrate the value of your review.

  3. ...love Maegan

    yeah …honesty is always the best policy …although I think they monitor our blogs for this and many other reasons THEY are not disclosing. 🙂

  4. Jennine

    ❤ sunshine, yeah, I would agree, a sponsored post and paid review really should be put in a separate category and be fully disclosed. I’ve done them, and my readers seemed to be ok with it.
    ❤ crosby… that’s so good to know! i often get mixed messages from pr’s so it’s always good to know that from the companies perspective, they should want this to…even if they dont’ know it. as for the free sample, I totally agree, bloggers still have a duty to report honestly and most do. also that the blogger is offering them free content to enjoy so just because it’s free doesn’t make it shady. 😉
    ❤maegan…ahaha i love it! i wonder what they are not disclosing???

  5. crosby

    Yeah I would much rather the FTC stay out of it. As a blogger, I don’t like the idea of being monitored by some organization or being told what to do. Actually, that’s more of a personality trait.

  6. Ashe Mischief

    It’s weird to me– when I first started blogging, I thought that using affiliate links was sneaky & deceptive. “How dare you try to make money off me for clicking the link!” But as my blog grew, as my participation grew, my views have changed entirely– to the point I often expect most links in a post to be affiliate links of some kind. I think it’s part of the niche, to be ingrained in it and see it as a small means of compensating yourself.

    I like to think that most bloggers are honest about disclosing if something is a gift and hopefully they are honest in their review of a product…
    .-= Ashe Mischief´s last blog ..Operation Collarbone: Plots & Thoughts on Weight Loss =-.

  7. Valerie

    This is really just common sense anyway. While not necessarily illegal before it’s just something that you should do anyway. The fact that the FTC felt this had to be done in the first place just goes to show you how shady people can really be, which is just sad.

    Thanks for letting us know about this development. 😀

  8. R.O.

    I saw this story yesterday as well, and thought about making a forum topic. I agree with disclosure, but with so many blogs, how they intend to enforce something like this is what really comes to mind… and how much is it going to cost us in taxes.

  9. daché

    Because blogs are a free media I feel that FTC monitoring is a bit much. I almost can’t see the how this works effectively but I am going to read more on the subject before making a solid opinion.

  10. Sydne

    Interesting. I’m torn. I usually disclose in the text but sometimes it doesn’t necessarily fit into the text. I think blogging is so popular now that readers are aware that bloggers receive products and use affiliates. The reader has to trust the blogger. I never recommend something just because it’s from an affiliate or because it was sent to me. There are certain sites that I don’t read because it’s very obvious that the blog is very PR-driven. I also think the FTC should probably stay out of it. It’s more about the character of the blogger.

  11. Sydne

    Interesting. I’m torn. I usually disclose in the text but sometimes it doesn’t necessarily fit into the text. I think blogging is so popular now that readers are aware that bloggers receive products and use affiliates. The reader has to trust the blogger. I never recommend somethi

  12. Sar.

    very interesting topic and good to read so many views – well, i believe in honesty but as some replies mention it doesn’t always fit into the post..tbh i think that most readers are very clever consumers and nowadays rarely would complete a deal without making an informed choice (i.e. clicking away to links etc.). But it’s still important to stay true to yourself and not only report positively to redeam a freebie or other value, I guess that’s what you owe your readers. .
    .-= Sar.´s last blog ..project blue. saves the ocean. =-.

  13. lisa

    I try to always be upfront about whether the product I’m reviewing is a sample, and how products, websites, and services came to my attention (i.e. I received an email from so-and-so).

  14. Jennine

    ❤crosby… yeah, i haven’t decided how i feel about this entirely. part of me feels better about having a third party make sure people behave ethically, on the other hand, i’m not sure how this will all pan out as the FTC hastn’t always made the best decisions.
    ❤ ashe, me too! i felt terrible about doing affiliate links, now i just wonder how i can do them without affecting my editorial decisions.
    ❤ valerie.. yes, i agree that it really should be done anyway, that’s why i don’t have any problems with it at the moment!
    ❤ dache and sydne oh yes, i can see that.. but at the same time it think it’s more out of protecting the readers than the bloggers.
    ❤sar.. good point!
    ❤lisa… that’s probably the best way to operate, how are things going in canada? are they talking about blogs there?

  15. Ludmila Corlateanu

    I’ve run into some strange posts of my friends blogs, and I think it is so obvious when you do something for commercial purpose, that is always best to be honest and say so.

  16. Ashe Mischief

    J, I feel like as long as it’s sincere, that’s it shouldn’t affect yr editorial decisions?

    Like today’s post I made on OMG Shoes! They’re affiliate links, yes. But 2/3 of those shoes have been on my wishlist for months. The 3rd pair I just found & it was insta-love! That’s what OMG Shoes was about– sharing my favorite part of fashion. So I don’t feel like it’s compromising my editorial standards to showcase something I love because it does have an affiliate link. If anything, it could work the opposite if you get too concerned by it– you may stop making choices or posts because of your fear of using an affiliate link.
    .-= Ashe Mischief´s last blog ..OMG Shoes! Pour la Victoire =-.

  17. Jennine

    ❤ludmilla… yeah, if they do it without heart, it’s more obvious… but sometimes new readers don’t know what they are really looking at…

    ❤ashe… i guess this is what i’m thinking about… i love vintage and thrifting, i’ve done it more than half my life… BUT when it comes to posting about vintage i would go see what’s on ebay first because they have such a great affiliate program. i know there are a lot of great sellers on etsy, but if i see two similar stories, two similar items, i’ll go with ebay. and i hardly ever look at the independent vintage sites. that’s what i mean by affecting editorial choices. i love all the stuff i post about that never changes…

  18. Eyeliah

    I think it is important to disclose, and I always have. It is true I can usually tell when someone is posting non disclosed and it just doesn’t feel right. Why would that post be any less valid if they had offered you the product for free?
    I for one would like to get MORE freebies to write about lol!
    .-= Eyeliah´s last blog ..Post of the Day ~ Still in Berlin =-.

  19. Sandra

    I also agreed that involving the FTC is overboard. But just like any regulatory system, if there weren’t questionable practices going on, we wouldn’t need them.

  20. Tor (fabfrocks)

    I can see that this is a sensible idea and have always disclosed when I was promoting a freebie, and felt disclosure was important for my readers.
    What is interesting is how exactly this is going to be policed? Will the FTC be hiring hundreds of blog police to determine how and why we should be promoting products??

  21. Mikelle Street

    Now whereas, I do believe that it should be disclosed whether one is receiving and… incentive to blog about a certain person, I don’t like the FTC telling me that. We got into blogging because we were tired of the press right? We were tired of the rigamaroe and we were tired of the regulations. We wanted stories told to us from another individual without the influence of some corporate entity. And now, with this possible legislation, the government is beginning to infiltrate blogger land. I don’t like it and basically I say it’s… even though I don’t really like the term… it’s a “slippery slope”!

    I’m going to blog on this now actually… at my blog on http://www.markese91.blogspot.com

  22. Prêt à Porter P

    i see your point. but just because someone may or may not be paid to “endorse” something doesnt mean that they dont genuinely like it. i think reviews for stuff should be honest though, but not enough for the FTC to get involved in it.
    on a side note, i remember i backed out of an ad program because i didnt like the idea that they would be in control of picking my advertisers, i didnt like the idea that i would check my blog and see something that i didnt believe in or was very much against being promoted on my blog.

  23. Ashley

    Hm, I don’t really know what to think about this… I’ll have to read more in to it. It does make sense to tell your readers when you got a product for free/as a sample, but don’t most of us do that anyways? I don’t know, I need to think on this one for a while lol!
    .-= Ashley´s last blog ..Dana-Maxx =-.

  24. ace

    The government already has too much power as it is. The FTC does not need to be involved.

  25. mary

    i think it is just obviously mandatory to disclose gifts if you want to be taken seriously – in the end it will always tell and take some of your authority if you don’t and people find out – I would not like to risk that

  26. hot beauty health

    It makes sense to disclose. I always disclose on any freebies a company sends me and my readers are okay with that. I want to build trust with my readers to let them know that any review that I do is unbiased.

  27. mouse

    It makes sense but I see a potential problem. Some affiliate and linkshare programs actually stipulate in their TOS that you NOT disclose in your posts as they interpret this as begging for clicks. So disclosing a freebie is no big deal but reviewing an item with an affiliate link might be.

  28. [email protected] Loans

    Yes, I completely agree- about product disclosure. Products disclosure isn’t really a big deal I guess, in fact it’s good to be honest at all- Thanks for this post!