Monday, October 05, 2009
Hiding freebies is now illegal
A reader alerted me to the news on a ruling by the Federal Trade Commission saying that "bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service". In other words, bloggers getting freebies from game companies, such as "review copies" of games, free subscriptions, or other swag, are now legally required to mention this before reviewing games from those companies. Which, fortunately for me, is already established policy on this blog since I got my first freebie.
In the past not everybody agreed with my full disclosure policy. And I would say that at that point it was just a minor ethical question. But now it becomes a legal question. I am not a lawyer, and I haven't got a clue what exactly would happen if a blogger praised a game in return for undisclosed freebies. But theoretically that could now get you into trouble with the law. I'd strongly recommend full disclosure, even if you don't like the ruling.
I wonder how many bloggers actually do get freebies. Do you think we are about to find out?
Addendum: I really must quote this example from the new rulings:
Example 7: A college student who has earned a reputation as a video game expert maintains a personal weblog or “blog” where he posts entries about his gaming experiences. Readers of his blog frequently seek his opinions about video game hardware and software. As it has done in the past, the manufacturer of a newly released video game system sends the student a free copy of the system and asks him to write about it on his blog. He tests the new gaming system and writes a favorable review. Because his review is disseminated via a form of consumergenerated media in which his relationship to the advertiser is not inherently obvious, readers are unlikely to know that he has received the video game system free of charge in exchange for his review of the product, and given the value of the video game system, this fact likely would materially affect the credibility they attach to his endorsement. Accordingly, the blogger should clearly and conspicuously disclose that he received the gaming system free of charge. The manufacturer should advise him at the time it provides the gaming system that this connection should be disclosed, and it should have procedures in place to try to monitor his postings for compliance.I don't think the fact that I'm not a college student any more exempts me from that. :)