FTC to patrol bloggers who receive gifts from companies

The Federal Trade Commission plans to release guidelines later this summer, which will require bloggers to disclose any gifts or payments they've received from companies they may be blogging about.

Look out: The blog posts you're reading, may have a hidden agenda. The blogger writing it may have been paid or given freebies for reviewing or mentioning a company's product in a post. But not every blogger mentions these lucrative behind-the-scene deals.

That's why the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wants to start monitoring the blogosphere for bloggers who fail to disclose any free gifts they write about or any conflicts of interest, the Associated Press reports.

For the first time, the FTC plans to begin monitoring bloggers who receive compensation or gifts from companies as early as late summer – when the agency is scheduled to release guidelines that would allow them to target bloggers following such practices.

The practice of returning gifts is commonplace among journalism organizations, who often must return products after writing about them. But as community journalism gains traction, more bloggers may be accepting free gifts or payments without any mention of the advertising relationship to their audience.
"Rules are set by the individuals who create the blog," Lee Rainie, direct of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, told the AP. "Some people will accept payments and free gifts, and some people won't. There's no established norm yet."

Recently, the AP profiled the uprise of "mommy bloggers," who sometimes receive payments or freebies from companies to mention or review their product in blog entries. One mommy blogger, Christine Young, received free snacks, a Nintendo Wii, and a trip to Los Angeles for blogging about Frito-Lay products.

The proposed FTC guidelines are worrisome to some bloggers, who say they may begin posting less or quit posting altogether to avoid scrutiny from the FTC. While no guidlines have been set, the AP says the penalties could stretch to include bloggers who review books and then provide a link to purchase the book on Amazon.com, which can provide a commission to the blogger for each click. The guidelines, the FTC says, would also cover other media such as Twitter, where some advertisers have started paying users to Tweet messages about products.

Should bloggers be required to disclose advertisement or compensation agreements on their blog? Leave a comment below, or tell us what you think on Twitter.

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