On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took steps to regulate certain types of blogging activities – the first-ever regulations issued to bloggers. The regulations require that bloggers who review or recommend products or services must “clearly and conspicuously” disclose “freebies” and any financial interest they might have in the product or service being reviewed. Some types of “freebies” – e.g., low value samples of products that a company might give the blogger to use in reviewing the product – are apparently not subject to the new regulations. However, the regulations seem to indicate that a disclaimer or discloure post or link will not longer suffice as disclosure. Instead, the blogger must make the clear and conspicuous disclosure at the end of the post reviewing the product or service. Here is a link to the story as reported by MSNBC. The following is a link to the FTC website and a link to the language of the regulations: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/10/endortest.shtm.
Frankly, I think these new regulations are long overdue. Far too many bloggers are being paid behind the scenes to make recommendations of products and services, and these financial relationships are almost never disclosed. Such secrecy undermines consumer protection and confidence in the reliability of information that is found on the Internet.
On the other hand, the strength and vitality of the Internet, and perhaps blogging in particular, is the freedom of information sharing. A new round of attacks on this freedom may already be underway. Here is a link to another story reported on MSNBC about Republican lawmakers attempts to delay federal regulators’ vote on the topic of “Internet neutrality.” This vote is expected to affirm the principle of “neutrality,” which would prevent corporations that provide Internet service (e.g., AT & T), from restricting information about their competitors’ products or services. As many of you probably know, AT&T also took steps recently to challenge Google Voice.
In this blogger’s opinion, efforts like those by AT&T are dangerous to democracy and ought to be diligently watched and reported on. In fact, as I write this post, I am struck by the fact that my Internet service is being provided by AT&T. If a corporation like AT&T could stifle my opinion, or the rights of other companies to market their products and services, because they already have what amounts to an unfair advantage in the communications industry, everyone in a democratic and capitalist society will suffer. Interestingly, a federal panel has called for universal broadband access, calling it “vital to the healthy functioning of communities.”
I know that many of you are already expressing your opinions to me about Internet regulations, so I am interested to hear your opinions on either the new FTC blog regs or activities like those of AT&T (and others).