Bloggers and the FTC
Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between a genuine user experience and a paid advertisement when reading product reviews on the Net. Often, there is no clear way to indicate to a reader whether the review is paid-for or is independent. I think blog posts could use a set of standardized symbols to indicate endorsed content. For example, the Creative Commons could develop a list of symbols for open content to indicate symbols for independent opinion, paid-for endorsements, testimonials, advertisements, etc.
Today, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued updated guidelines governing the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising. The guidelines now clearly state that “the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.” These guidelines are effective as of December 1, 2009 and fines for not declaring conflicts of interest range up to $11,000 for a violation.
Hopefully, the new FTC guidelines will make online blogging a little more transparent. They will certainly spur bloggers to be more conscientious and open about their financial relationships. Disclosure will make it easier for a reader or consumer to avoid false or misleading claims and to find the best reviews for their needs.
I was among the people who watched the 44th President of the United States get sworn in on January 20 on their high definition digital television on a Linux PC. And shortly thereafter the website of the White House – WhiteHouse.gov changed to reflect the new administration’s way of doing things. A blog on WhiteHouse.gov was unthinkable just a month ago. And a post that said “Change has come to WhiteHouse.gov” was even harder to imagine.
The blog post highlights some key points that I find resonate closely with the ideas of the open source community.
“Just like your new government, WhiteHouse.gov and the rest of the Administration’s online programs will put citizens first. Our initial new media efforts will center around three priorities:
Communication — Americans are eager for information about the state of the economy, national security and a host of other issues. This site will feature timely and in-depth content meant to keep everyone up-to-date and educated. Check out the briefing room, keep tabs on the blog (RSS feed) and take a moment to sign up for e-mail updates from the President and his administration so you can be sure to know about major announcements and decisions.
Transparency – President Obama has committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history, and WhiteHouse.gov will play a major role in delivering on that promise. The President’s executive orders and proclamations will be published for everyone to review, and that’s just the beginning of our efforts to provide a window for all Americans into the business of the government. You can also learn about some of the senior leadership in the new administration and about the President’s policy priorities.
Participation — President Obama started his career as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, where he saw firsthand what people can do when they come together for a common cause. Citizen participation will be a priority for the Administration, and the internet will play an important role in that. One significant addition to WhiteHouse.gov reflects a campaign promise from the President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.”
I think this blog post makes a powerful statement about why communication, transparency and participation are so important in making a software project and even a large nation move positively towards the successful accomplishment of greater goals.