Should the FTC have a say over blog content?


If you read Gear Diary, you are probably familiar with product reviews on various blogs. But do you ever consider why your favorite website is reviewing product X? Or whether product X has been overly generous to buy goodwill in the blog world? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) cares. How will this affect you? Read on and find out.

Businessweek has an excellent article here that gives a detailed rundown of the FTC’s proposal and their reasoning. Essentially, there is concern that consumers may not realize the relationship between companies (who may advertise on websites in addition to providing samples for review) and the writers/owners of the blogs.

I saw this article a few days ago and started pulling together notes on this, since I think it does spark an interesting debate about where the lines of free speech and consumer protection meet. Coincidentally, Twikini, a twitter program for Windows Mobile, came out of beta today, and they have a promotion running that would probably explode the FTC’s metaphorical head. Twikini is offering a free copy (normally 4.99) of their software to anyone who posts on their blog about the software, as long as it has a screenshot and is at least one paragraph.

On the one hand, it’s excellent viral marketing for them…but on the other, they’re essentially soliciting reviews in exchange for free software, and to entice others who read the reviews to go and purchase the software. Ethical or not?

And is this really terribly different than the scandal from earlier this year? Obviously, there are differences, but if Belkin were paying people to write good reviews who used Belkin products, would that be different? And why?

This is a good opportunity to also point you to Gear Diary’s official stance on product submission and reviews, found here. We are very clear that we offer unbiased reviews; no one is buying us off with shiny objects.

So now that I’ve rambled on about this, what are your thoughts? Should blogs be under the same scrutiny as regular media when it comes to reviews, or are blogs by the people, for the people and free from government oversight? Share in the comments and let us know your thoughts!

Categories: Editorials

12 replies

  1. Is popular media under scrutiny as well? I’m unaware of any regulations that govern print media. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any – I just haven’t heard of them.

    More government regulation is almost never a good thing. There are several more important areas in my book that would be worthy of closer examination including product feedback pages at popular online stores and online review sites that have members give “candid” reviews.

    Will there also be oversite of popular social media sites where people pass along recommendations? How about link sharing sites?

    There’s too much to possibly regulate that I think the government should stay entirely out and let the free market work.

    Sites with good reputations typically rise to the top while the fly by night sites sink.

  2. Should the FTC have a say over blog content? | Gear Diary: On the one hand, it’s excellent viral marketing f..

  3. If the FTC is going to get its panties in a bunch about “truth in blogging”, they would do well to look to themselves and other governmental branches and eliminate corporate lobbyists. Gear Diary telling me product X will do wonders for organizing my contacts is not quite the same magnitude as company Z influencing governmental agencies to say soften oversight of GMOs.
    Blogs are (or at least should be) ultimately the personal opinions of the owners/contributors, as Wiki says “personal online diaries”, not Consumer Reports or Underwriters Laboratory. An opinion is not the same as “buy this product to cure this ailment, since claims and assertions are supported by FDA-validated studies”. Also, don’t fradulent claims result in punitive measures against a given company, not its advertiser? Perhaps the real issue is whether or not a review constitutes an overt advertisement, or whether or not a blog represented as an independent blog is actually owned by a company that is “reviewing” said company’s products.

    That Belkin or one of its employees paid (albeit trivial) sums of money to individuals for favorable reviews on Amazon isn’t the fault of Amazon…that’s the fault of Belkin or its employee(s). I think federal oversight of Amazon in this sense isn’t necessarily warranted; oversight of the company listing products on Amazon, however, is.
    And really, is the government so awash in a budgetary surplus that they can spend large sums of money on such things?
    Sorry if these thoughts seem disjointed…I’m enduring sporadic internet connectivity. :(

  4. It’s definitely something to consider when reading a review; whether or not the writer was specifically paid to write what was written, or if it is really his or her opinion, but I agree with Wayne that it’s not necessarily something I would want the government to regulate.

    About Twikini specifically: did they demand positive reviews in return for the free software? Were negative reviews not allowed to be posted? Either of those scenarios would be bad.

    If Twikini’s plan was to get their software in the hands of as many people as they could, in return for their honest opinions and a screenshot to prove that they had used the program, then I think they employed smart marketing…as long as their product is good.

    But then, that’s always the danger with any “seeding” type program; you have to make sure your product will stand up to scrutiny. You have to be able to accept the criticism if it can’t – and be willing to FIX the problem if it is fixable.

    Yes…I am looking at YOU HP. 😛

    But I digress.

  5. I’ve been writing product reviews (hardware, software, accessories, etc.) for 13 years. I haven’t HAD to write a review that was tilted one way or the other, ever (and never will, for that matter). If a product is so bad that it would be damaging…SERIOUSLY damaging to publish the review, I either work with the author/manufacturer, etc. to work through the problems or simply send everything back with a long list of unpublished issues.

    No. No everything that gets published is a glowing review. I have given a number of products two thumbs way down over the years. I have always spoken my mind.

    I agree with Judie and Wayne. This is NOT something that I want Big Brother looking over my shoulder for. However, at the end of the day, if delivered correctly, criticism of any and every kind can be a value add. You have to help the author/manufacturer/etc. understand that your comments, both good and bad, are meant to help improve the product. If you can honestly deliver that message, you’ve done a good job as a reviewer.

    That said, the HP article Judie sites is a great example of complete FAIL…

  6. The government has no business regulating blogs or any other form of media. This is nothing more than an assault on free speech. I don’t care if their target is a blog, a newspaper or talk radio – ALL have the same First Amendment protection and should be left alone.

  7. @n0doz: Okay, you summed up a vast majority of my prior post more succinctly. :)

  8. FYI, some concerns discussing the specific changes brought about by an ad agency can be found here ( ), and perhaps the area of interest is C. Section 255.5 – Disclosure of Material Connections, maybe for those of you with a legalese bent Doug.

    Disclaimer: I’m not associated in any way, shape or form with this particular entity. I just wanted to find the 😉


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