FTC to Regulate Blogger Payola

Regulators require online writers to reveal freebies

By Owen Thomas
|  Tuesday, Oct 6, 2009  |  Updated 9:55 AM EDT
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FTC to Regulate Blogger Payola

Amy Sussman/Getty Images for IMG

Blogger Julia Allison gets paid by companies to promote their products. Wouldn't you be excited, too?

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On the Internet, nobody knows you're a shill. Regulators hope to change that.

The Federal Trade Commission announced Monday that bloggers must disclose to their readers any freebies and payments they received from companies whose products they review.

The goal: protecting consumers who may not realize that their favorite mommyblogger, say, is getting paid off by a diaper manufacturer, or that a gushing travelogue was written by an online adventurer who didn't pay his own way.

Bloggers could face fines of up to $11,000 per undisclosed payola incident.

That's a hefty fine for what's proved to be a pretty paltry business.

Julia Allison, a dating columnist turned blogger at NonSociety.com, recently revealed that her "business," such as it is, took in a mere $60,000 last year. Allison took a sponsored trip to Sea World and recently started appearing in ads for Sony. (Allison also appears on NY Nonstop, a digital TV channel owned, like this website, by NBC Universal.)

Wisely, the FTC is targeting advertisers rather than bloggers, as that's where the money is.

But bloggers as well as advertisers could be ordered to reimburse consumers who spend money based on money-skewed product reviews.

The new rules aren't perfectly clear. Rich Cleland, assistant director of the FTC's advertising practices division, told the Associated Press that disclosures must be "clear and conspicuous."

That shouldn't be hard for bloggers like Allison. After all, she makes a specialty of calling attention to herself.

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