FTC to Review Blog Reviews

Bloggers’ days of operating with little or no government oversight may be coming to an end if the Federal Trade Commission has its way. AP reported Sunday that the FTC may approve new guidelines later this summer allowing the agency to target bloggers for failure to disclose conflicts of interest, and targeting the companies that compensate those bloggers with free merchandise or cash.

If the new FTC guidelines are approved, bloggers would have to back up claims and disclose if they’re being compensated, but the commission told AP it hasn’t set the methods for doing so yet. The FTC could order violators to stop and pay restitution to customers, and it could ask the Justice Department to sue for civil penalties. Any type of blog could be scrutinized, the commission added, not just ones that specialize in reviews.

The practice of including links to purchase recommended books at Amazon.com would seem to run afoul of the new guidelines, as bloggers and owners of other sites receive commissions if their links to the online retailer result in purchases.

“It would always be better for bloggers to self-police,” Robert Cox, president of Media Bloggers Association in New Rochelle, N.Y., told AP. “We have laws on the books. They apply to everybody, not just people who write blogs.”

IZEA, an Orlando, Fla.-based firm that matches advertisers with 265,000 bloggers, decided to act before the FTC guidelines take effect, AP reported. The company began sending reports to advertisers on whether hired bloggers are following company policy and disclosing compensation arrangements — some are paid up to $3,000 for a 200-word post.