The Federal Trade Commission, a cadre focused on protecting America’s consumers, has issued new guidance governing endorsements and testimonials of products, including comments made by bloggers. Like most rules, I think the rules in this guidance were devised because some bad apples were doing wrong, and the FTC has created these guidelines with the intent of helping the good guys and slowing the bad guys. But I don’t mind telling you that for a blogger like me who largely writes to learn and to engage others in dialog, these rules are probably going to slow me down a bit. Oh well. That’s life. I guess I have to blame the bad people, not the FTC.
I have not heard of these regulations being challenged in the courts and I certainly don’t have the resources or intent to challenge them. I intend on following them. You can read them yourself at: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/10/endortest.shtm
Most of the rules and their impact will be very easy on me. Some will be confusing and harder. Here are some impacts, starting with the easy and proceeding to the harder:
- If I am given a book to review, I have to say I was given the book to review. That’s no big deal.
- If someone gives me a piece of hardware or software or some gadget to review and I write about it, I have to mention that someone gave it to me. Most folks don’t give me stuff like that (but someone just gave me something really really neat (IronKey) and I want to write about it but I have to stop and study the rules first).
- No one pays me to write blog entries. But if that ever happened it is pretty clear I would have to report that. Since I have no intention of taking money for blogging, this is not a hard one to comply with.
- Even if I am writing about stuff that consumers don’t buy, like enterprise IT, maybe even things people can’t buy, like open source, I need to make full disclosure of any material connections I have with the product or company. In the past I have just put some generic disclaimers and disclosures of bias on my site. I’ll need to make those far more specific. That’s not so hard either. It will just take some time to add more precision to my disclosures.
- Something a bit harder: I’m not sure what this means to my periodic updating of a list of disruptive innovations and the companies behind them. I need to go through that list and identify who I have any material connection to. I advise some firms on the list. I also advise some firms that are investors in firms on the list. And I advise a great reseller (Carahsoft) who has a great portfolio of firms they work with, some of which are on the list of firms I track as great innovators. I’ll be updating that list of the disruptive innovation firms and technologies to reflect my connections, even the tenuous ones, in the near term.
Here is a harder one: As an IT guy at a small consultancy that consults with many firms, including venture capital firms, private equity firms, technology firms and integrators, it actually gets rather complex when I think through what my material connections might be. For example, I do not currently have a contract with IBM. But it sure pays off for me to be smart about IBM. And the same goes for Google and Microsoft and Oracle. It pays off, so to speak, for me to be smart on those companies and to periodically write about them, even though I get nothing from those companies by writing about them. And, even though I don’t have contracts with those firms at the time of this writing, I might have a contract with any of them at some time in the future. I have to think about that and how I will deal with it.
Bottom line: No one ever pays me to write blog entries (and the same goes for other contributors to the site, like Ryan Kamauff). We report what we think. One thing I think is that I wish the FTC would just let me post an banner on my site saying these opinions are my own but read at your own risk and think for yourself. But they probably wont go for that. So, I’ll do what I can to capture any potential material connection I might have to firms, products, capabilities I write about.