Bloggers who favorably review companies' products and receive benefits, like a free game console, for those reviews need to disclose to their readers such ties, the Federal Trade Commission has ruled.
Not doing so could result in such bloggers and companies running afoul of federal rules prohibiting deceptive marketing practices.
The FTC provides an example bloggers can judge their behavior against:
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 consumer generated 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.
The FTC said it understood that bloggers were being held to a different standard than reviewers in traditional media like newspapers and magazines since journalists in those media don't have the FTC telling them they have to reveal whether they received a free product.
The commission said that, as far as it was concerned, positive reviews in newspapers and magazines aren't endorsements because there exists an "independent editorial" process leading to the publication of such reviews.
There's another difference too between the solo blogger and traditional media staffers. Most big-city news outlets have ethics policies guiding what journalists can accept for free. Typically, the value of the item can't exceed a nominal amount. Journalists who don't abide by these standards can be fired.
So traditional media tend to have written guidelines that provide them a bright line that journalists cross at their peril. There's been nothing like that in the blogosphere. Until now, that is.