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Shorter FTC: “You’re Too Stupid”

Relax. You have been protected. No longer must you languish in uncertainty about whether I or anyone else who reviews a book, a film, or food is doing so for professional reasons with a reputation to build and maintain, or just for the goodies.

The Federal Trade Commission will try to regulate blogging for the first time, requiring writers on the Web to clearly disclose any freebies or payments they get from companies for reviewing their products.

The FTC said Monday its commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the final Web guidelines, which had been expected. Violating the rules, which take effect Dec. 1, could bring fines up to $11,000 per violation. Bloggers or advertisers also could face injunctions and be ordered to reimburse consumers for financial losses stemming from inappropriate product reviews.

For the record, I think that if you want to build and maintain a reputation, then such disclosures are certainly a good idea. I think it’s good that you get to wonder, even question, and that it’s my job over time to work for a good reputation. Well, whew… now I can just dispense with all that work.

Thanks to being protected from your own stupidity, lack of discretion and discernment in the Federal Trade Commission’s eyes, you no longer get to see the difference between good business practices, values, and virtues, and plain old slimy operators.

Virtue has been taken out of the picture. Everyone’s just gonna follow the law, now. Isn’t it wonderful?

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

34 Comments

  1. Michael on October 5, 2009 at 12:46

    Richard,

    Do I detect a note of cynicism? Come on, man! Don’t you know that without the FTC slimy bloggers will just rip people off left and right? Now with the FTC badge of approval we can all go safely about our business.

    Michael
    Nutrition and Physical Regeneration

  2. Jim on October 5, 2009 at 12:55

    Richard,

    It was always caveat emptor. The shame of this is that now, people will actually think it’s ok because the FTC says so. They also said that the banks that we pumped all of that money into were sound. (They weren’t) You ready to lose some hard-earned cash on CIT? Woo hoo!!

    The government is society’s high fructose corn syrup. For some it makes things seem better, but it’s insidiousness will only be discovered after it’s too late!

  3. Bryan Rankin on October 5, 2009 at 13:28

    “The government is society’s high fructose corn syrup.”

    You give government too much credit. Sugar would be a better analogy; it’s just as bad as high fructose corn syrup, but with a better reputation. It’s been around so long most people cannot accept that it is a problem.

  4. Michelle on October 5, 2009 at 14:12

    How in the world are they going to enforce that?

    • Michael on October 5, 2009 at 14:19

      With an internet czar of course!

      Michael
      Nutrition and Physical Regeneration



  5. Diana Hsieh on October 5, 2009 at 14:20

    In the name of “openness” and “disclosure,” free speech is being slowly destroyed in America. If the government were burning books, people would be up in arms. However, the statists — left and right — are crafty. Instead of outright bans, they prefer regulations.

    We’ve already seen this happen with the massive regulations on political speech. In many states, including my own Colorado, ordinary people cannot speak out about candidates or ballot measures due to very confusing disclosure laws enforced by heavy fines.

    Now the federal government plans to threaten bloggers with massive fines based on the whims of bureaucrats — who will soon, I guarantee you, write pages and pages of uber-dense and convoluted rules about what counts as “a review” or “payment” and the required form of the disclosure. Soon, almost any speech about a product will be regulated. Oh, how the large producers of crappy products will love that! They’ll soon be lobbying the government for further restrictions and regulations.

    The inevitable result will be that many honest bloggers will stop discussing products entirely — or they’ll stop blogging. Seriously, how many bloggers make enough money to cover the potential fines? How many bloggers will have the time and the fortitude to read through all the regulations, to know whether they’re complying or not with them? Many other people will not start a blog; it would be too much trouble — and too risky.

    Gee, do you think that will benefit consumers? Do you think the result will be better information about products on blogs? Of course not!

    Do not be surprised by that. In fact, the aim of the government is not to protect us from those few dastardly reviewers who accept money on the side in exchange for positive reviews. The aim of the government is to control what we think and what we do by regulating the marketplace of ideas to its death. They’re doing an excellent job of that — and most Americans are blind to the danger.

    Folks, this ruling is very, very dangerous. Make a stink, if you care for your freedom.

  6. SassaFrass88 on October 5, 2009 at 14:50

    This is right up there with the lady being fined by MI State government because she helps her neighbor out by allowing their kids into her home on bad weather days until their parents get off work. They say she could face huge fines and jail-time if she doesn’t get a daycare license. She asked what to do when the weather was really bad, couldn’t they stay in her garage at least? Nope. They should get umbrellas is what they told her.

    RIDICULOUS!

    We are no longer a ‘free’ country. 🙁

  7. Don Matesz on October 5, 2009 at 15:54

    This naturally makes my blood boil. I read the linked article. It contains this:

    quote:

    “Jack Gillis, a spokesman for the Consumer Federation of America, thinks the FTC doesn’t go far enough to protect consumers from unethical bloggers.

    “Consumers are increasingly dependent on the Internet for purchase information,” he said. “There’s tremendous opportunity to steer consumers to the wrong direction.”

    end quote

    Who defines “steering consumers to the wrong direction”? If a blogger advocates paleodiet but the USDA advocates the Food Pyramid, is the blogger “steering consumers to the wrong direction”? If a blogger advocates raw milk but the USDA recommends soy milk, is the blogger “steering consumers to the wrong direction”?

    I don’t think the Gillis-like people of the world know how to think for themselves. They want a damned nanny state that “protects” everyone from deviating from the state’s paradigm. They create a dumbed down populace by attempting to remove all hazards. Argh…

  8. Chef Rachel on October 5, 2009 at 15:56

    Nuts! Okay, nuts would be okay, nuts are good (the kind we roast and cook and eat!). This is crazy. I pray they don’t tax the internet and those who use it next. So where exactly must we go to read the rules if we don’t want to break them and face absurdly high fines for doing something as simple as reviewing a book, a food product that fits with our diets, a restaurant we like or don’t like, a movie that promotes a cause we are interested in or agree or disagree with, or whatever?

    What the heck IS an inappropriate product review and who determines what IS appropriate for a given blogger to review? Sounds like a pile of hot steaming corn grits!!!! The internet police!! Don’t the government officials have something better to do with THEIR time and OUR tax dollars? What about our right to freedom of speech? Man, oh, man!

  9. Jim on October 5, 2009 at 16:17

    “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

    Ben Franklin

    The reality is that the things that Richard discusses on here about food, diet, and well being, it all dovetails with the natural concepts of survival of the fittest, and, frankly, the wrath of nature. Part of life is understanding that you can fail. That you need to make sure that you take care of yourself, and those that you care about. However far and often you seek to expand that umbrella is up to you.

    There is a sense of “entitlement” that is spreading that runs counter the laws of nature, in the long run. That is a dying philosophy. However, for the time being, we are stuffing our society with junk…processed grains, marketing, and the politicians that suck money off of the big companies.

    I for one have had enough and am changing how I consume products and media every single day. It’s still caveat emptor with everything. The liberties that are being taken away, one by one, into the hands of a controlling government is terrifying. At least I will be as fit and prepared as I can possibly be.

  10. Tom Naughton on October 5, 2009 at 19:59

    As if the insult to our intelligence weren’t bad enough, we will also be paying taxes to provide salaries for the people assigned to protect us from our inability to recognize dishonest bloggers.

    Said it before, I’ll say it again: if Thomas Jefferson were alive today, he’d be shooting at someone.

  11. Dear Activision, IGN, and the FTC. I love you guys. | Binge Gamer Dot Net on October 6, 2009 at 00:02

    […] Completely unrelated links – Don’t Ask About Rock Band On IGN’s Music Hub + Shorter FTC: “You’re Too Stupid” AKPC_IDS += "15785,";Popularity: unranked […]

  12. Joseph Miller on October 6, 2009 at 07:11

    I second all the outraged cries. This is sick!

  13. Michael on October 6, 2009 at 13:47

    They want a damned nanny state that “protects” everyone from deviating from the state’s paradigm. They create a dumbed down populace by attempting to remove all hazards. Argh…

    Don,

    I think you statement does a grave disservice to nannies. 🙂

    Being a nanny is a legitimate occupation that is entered into by mutual agreement by two willing parties. The term “nanny state” doesn’t at all convey what the State does, since it is a bully not a nanny, who will coerce into submission anyone who dares oppose them by ignoring their (in this case the FTC) mandates.

    Michael
    Nutrition and Physical Regeneration

  14. Ramona Denton on October 6, 2009 at 15:15

    Great post Richard!
    I’m pretty new to blogging, but what a horror!! I’ve only just discovered the low carb and paleo nutritional strategies that really work for me, and now they’re going to make it illegal to tell anybody about it?? At least it’s still legal to eat meat. For now.

  15. Michael on October 6, 2009 at 19:52

    So I ran across a blog today where the blog owner and the 4 comments were all in favor of the new regulation because it would protect “innocent” people from getting sucked in by sales or opportunity scams. Sigh. I couldn’t even bring myself to comment.

    Michael
    Nutrition and Physical Regeneration

  16. Kiki on October 7, 2009 at 07:36

    It kind of sounded like a not terrible idea for the FTC to force people to disclose their stake on a product review but after reading some of the comments maybe not so much. But we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place and have to pick the lesser evil.

  17. Jim on October 7, 2009 at 08:45

    The only answer to me, is to leave us to our own devices. Caveman didn’t search for FDA approval stickers on wooly mammoths…if something was rancid and a carcass, you’d hope that they’d smell it, otherwise, they get sick and die. The only answer to me is to leave us to live our lives and live with our decisions..One can point to examples of government intervention that succeeded, and have, but in general, when viewing the whole, there seems to be no better system to me than darwin’s theory of evolution…in other words, you may as well ride the wave of evolution rather than fight it. Life is a gift!

  18. alec on October 8, 2009 at 11:13

    Guys, you are off on the wrong track. An ethical site owner or reviewer would disclose this information.

    The unethical ones (who might even be masquerading with lookalike sites) would not. Sometimes doing people real harm. Until now, there was little legislation in place to prosecute these modern day snake oil salesmen.

    This legislation is just a stick with which to beat the spammers and the scammers. Unless you think it’s a good idea to give spammers and scammers free rein, I can’t see how you can be against this legislation.

    Anarchy sucks. No running water and yahoos knocking your wife down and stealing her groceries. Civilization exists for a reason.

    • Richard Nikoley on October 8, 2009 at 11:33

      “Anarchy sucks.”

      For whom? I’ve been willing to take my chances for 20 years, now. Plus, I love to see stupid and ignorant people get exactly what they deserve. It’s how people learn, and teach others.

      “Civilization?” Is that what you call stealing time & money from people who produce, for the purpose of protecting fuck-offs, stupids, ignorants and the plain old self-destructive from the consequences of their own stupidity, negligence, laziness, etc? That’s not “civilization,” it’s socialism, and it only serves to reward and protect mediocrity and failure.

      More on the FTC:

      http://www.advicegoddess.com/archives/2009/10/07/the_asinine_new.html

      Both of them are right on. This is stupid.



    • alec on October 8, 2009 at 11:53

      Richard, I’ve lived on three continents, including stints in America, Russia and most of Europe.

      I’ve seen anarchy close up first hand. It’s not much fun.

      The guy with the biggest gun wins – or the one who shoots on sight, just in case. No women are safe.

      So that’s anarchy out of the way…

      Moving on to socialism: I’ve lived in countries with government provided and regulated health care and in countries without it.

      Curiously enough the people are happier and healthier in countries where health care is perceived as a basic service and not an optional extra.

      Honestly, how someone with the latest Macbook Pro in his hands can rant against civilisation on his weblog built on one of the greatest socialist experiments of all time (Open Source software in general and WordPress in particular) will forever remain mystery to me.

      To pull this stance off credibly, it’s time to move back to a wooden shack built with your bare hands or a cave excavated out of a rock face, hopefully with a nearby waterfall for washing and freshwater. Keep in mind, before civilisation, the winters were hard. Very hard.

      By all means, Richard inculcate independence and pride in yourself and your loved ones. Independence and strength are never out of place. But why would you mean-spiritedly cheer on the abuse and fleecing of the weaker in spirit and mind?



    • Richard Nikoley on October 8, 2009 at 12:22

      Honestly, how someone with the latest Macbook Pro in his hands can rant against civilisation

      Oh, I’m not. I embrace the idea of civilization. I think it’ll be great if we ever come to have it.

      Reminds me of when Ghandi was once asked what he though of Western Civilization, to which he replied, “I think that would be a good idea.”

      Anarchism, like atheism (I’m both), proscribes nothing. Atheism is not a “religion,” and Anarchism is not a form of governance.

      But the biggest laugh of all is how statists talk about innocents being killed all while governments worldwide Have murdered about 250 million people in the last 100 years or so.

      The guy with the biggest gun wins…

      Indeed.

      See also this comment from Michael on another thread (you might want to check out that whole thread).

      https://freetheanimal.com/2009/09/healthcare-through-force.html#comment-9451

      In fact, government, the state, has roundly been the biggest murderer of human beings man has ever invented, by many magnitudes. Some may wish to brush that aside for the sake of fast computers and cell phones that work, but not me.



    • alec on October 8, 2009 at 12:40

      I’m clearly missing the nuances which resolve the simultaneous pro-anarchy and pro-civilisation stances. Now that we are on to government killing, it’s really ironic that 500,000 Iraqis dying over years to set up military bases for the US is considered a lesser tragedy than 3,000 dying when a couple of office buildings were knocked down in NY city.

      Paradoxical, this is the thing we call civilisation. So we may understand one another better than it seems on this topic.

      I checked out your health care thread, Richard. The only thing which made any sense is your point that mandatory coverage might force the insurance companies to encourage healthier living. In the US which is the only major economy in the world without a strong state healthcare system, you guys are the most obese, sloppiest, unhealthiest specimens in an advanced economy.

      So whatever theory you like to tap away at your typewriters or on faux cave walls, practice indicates that unregulated health care doesn’t work.

      Cover your ears and shout, nah-nah-nah, Michael.

      If you shout it loud and long enough, state healthcare will stop making sense.



    • Richard Nikoley on October 8, 2009 at 15:09

      I’m clearly missing the nuances which resolve the simultaneous pro-anarchy and pro-civilisation stances.

      I don’t know that there are nuances as much as misinformation. Anarchy simply means the absence of formal government, and, since government is _force_ (that’s its essential defining attribute), one might say that an advocate of anarchy, properly grounded, is one who is against the use of initiatory (not defensive) force. And that’s it.

      It does not — again, properly understood — proscribe or preclude any sort of voluntary social organization. It’s not “power to the people” (which means that 50.00000001% get to rule the rest, by brutal force if necessary), but power to the individual. The individual’s natural responsibility is to respect the same rights in all other individuals that he claims for himself (your right to swing your fists ends at the point of my nose ).

      …500,000 Iraqis…

      No argument there.

      Paradoxical, this is the thing we call civilisation. So we may understand one another better than it seems on this topic.

      It’s possible. I’m all for civilization and progress, but not through force and all its manifestations (like the protection racket that constitutes government).

      …you guys are the most obese…

      I think we’re close to, or have been eclipsed by the UK, and in terms of T2 diabetes as well.

      But that’s not a principled argument. The fact is: I don’t care (no, really). The whole fucking world could go to hell in a handbasket and I still would not say: “well, OK, in that case, let’s dispose of the property, time, money, and even lives of some for the benefit of others.”

      One person or a whole population’s need is no moral claim upon the life of even one.

      …unregulated health care doesn’t work

      Work for _whom_, Alec?



    • Michael on October 13, 2009 at 11:40

      LOL! There must be an argument in there somewhere even if I can’t find it. 🙂

      I still want to know how WordPress and OpenSource are the great experiments in socialism.

      Michael
      Nutrition and Physical Regeneration



    • Grant on October 8, 2009 at 12:33

      Alec,

      The problem with these rules is that it’s predicated on the idea that if someone is saying good things about a product, and recieving payment for it, then he must be lying (exageratting the positives or omitting the negatives would be the most common form). Now, it’s certainly possible that he might be lying (ie: inaccurate), but so long as he isn’t pretending a level of accuracy he doesn’t have (ie: claiming to be an expert in the field when he isn’t, claiming to have done tests he hasn’t), a reasonable person should should take him with a grain of salt.

      It’s the same as if I were to ask what kind of gas mileage your car got, because I was thinking of buying the same model. Would it be fraudulent to for you to say “great”, when in fact it’s near the bottom amongst comparable models? Of course not. I have a responsibility (society doesn’t have it for me) to keep in mind that when you make that claim, being a layman, all you’re doing is giving me a personal anecdote.

      Where would such a policy end? Perhaps you said it has great gas mileage because you knew it would be a “great” improvement over the gas mileage I’m getting with my current car. Perhaps you were comparing it to last year’s version of the same model. Perhaps you were expecting me to remember that you live in Colorado, where you only have to step on the gas pedal half of the time.

      Should all of this be ignored – should you be regarded as a criminal and sacked with a 5-digit fine – simply because you also happen to have a few shares of that car company’s stock in your 401(k)?

      Even if getting me to buy the car, and thus making your 401(k) richer, was your motivation, you haven’t mislead me. Instead, what you have done is made a vague claim in response to a vague question. It’s not your responsibility – just so you can avoid an $11,000 fine – to provide me with a fully-detailed, scientifically tested report. If I want to actually know that buying a car just like your would actually be “great” for me in terms of gas mileage, I need to do that – not you.



    • alec on October 8, 2009 at 12:49

      Hi Grant,

      Actually, the FTC have already clarified that the rules don’t really apply to someone who in the course of conversation casually mentions success with a product, but to affiliates and bloggers who have a clear compensation package or commercial relationship with the product supplier.

      So to be honest you are exaggerating the guidelines to the point of distortion.

      To put some scale on the distorition, it would be like me writing alcohol kills – alcohol should be banned immediately. Actually alcohol doesn’t kill in small measured doses. It can even have a salutary effect (alas the doses are very small). Endorsements in small uncompensated doses are still allowed. But hyping crap (often knowingly), just became very, very illegal. High time.

      Those who do it will have to think twice about continuing to so do.

      Now if the US government would just stop subsidising the lousy financiers and bankers who deliberately pushed bad paper for the commissions (in the absence of sufficient regulation), the year might close on a positive economic note.



    • Grant on October 8, 2009 at 14:53

      Alec,

      Two points. First, a more succinct explanation of why these rules are silly: Paying someone to review your product is not the same thing as paying someone to endorse your product. Just because a person is on the take doesn’t make him dishonest. Not any more than if he isn’t on the take does it make him honest (see government). If a person is willing to lie about what he really thinks of a product, he is exposing himself to far bigger financial loses than the gain he is getting. His readers, on his word, will buy that product – and when it doesn’t do what he says it does, they’ll stop reading his blog. When that happens, he’ll stop having product makers asking him to write reviews.

      Second, a few words about your allegation towards me, as well as what I think these rules are really for: I’m not “exagerrating to the point of distortion.” I’m taking the premise the rules are predicated on to it’s logical conclusion. There is nothing – no principle – preventing what I described in my gas mileage analogy from happening. The only thing which might prevent it from happening is the government being overwhelmed. Whether or not they do expand the rules that far (present lip service to the contrary notwithstanding), or, should they, whether or not they prosecute you in that case, is completely arbitrary. Arbitrary government is tyrannical government.

      These rules can’t be objectively interpreted, and they can’t be enforced. That’s not their purpose. The purpose of these rules is to subdue the the political and cultural mavericks which make up the blogosphere. Period. The rulemakers understand that if they can skate by for a few months with the appearance of doing something to legitimately protect individual rights, they’ll have time to take down a few high-profile bloggers who make statements – EVEN IF TRUE – but who don’t disclose that they benefit financially from doing so, and thus fewer competent voices of dissention will be able to blog.



    • alec on October 8, 2009 at 15:49

      Hi Grant,

      Most of the really controversial bloggers who are disturbing the political sphere are not doing it on affiliate sales and endorsements. There are many other ways to skin those cats.

      I’m afraid this is really the state looking out for the interests of its citizens. Believe it or not it happens. Not always, in some countries, not often, but it does happen.



    • Richard Nikoley on October 8, 2009 at 16:13

      the state looking out for the interests of its citizens.

      _Whose_ interests, Alec?

      The state has always — first and foremost — sees to its own interests of maintaining and increasing power, all the while, peddling its snake oil that most everyone swallows like they cant get enough.



    • Grant on October 8, 2009 at 16:42

      Of course it’s the state looking out for the citizen’s interests. That’s the problem! The citizens should be looking out for their own interests, not having the state (ie: other citizens) looking out for them for them.

      That’s the real violations of rights here. The FTC can pretend all they want that what they’re doing is protecting individual rights (ie: I have a right to not be lied to), but there’s a difference between not being told everything about why someone says something, and being told something false and misleading.

      I’ll say it again: it’s not NECESSARILY misleading to review (even positively) a product of a company who pays you to do so. These rules regard every instance as such – and thus levy a fine for it. If they were willing to take every case and look into if false claims were made, they wouldn’t be making these rules. We already have a rule against making false claims (ie: fraud is illegal).

      Like I said, the real purpose of these rules is not to prevent fraud (that’s just the pretext). It’s to intimidate the blogosphere, and discourage others from joining it.



    • alec on October 8, 2009 at 16:49

      If that’s the best the state can do to intimidate the blogosphere and discourage others from joining it, I think we’ll be alright Grant.

      I’m sure the state can and will do much, much worse than this when they decide to really put their back into it. For the moment, the US gov encourage the internet as they feel they can do more damage via an open internet in China, Iran, Ukraine than they will suffer themselves.

      Is that dark enough for you yet, Grant?



    • Grant on October 8, 2009 at 17:01

      Alright, I’m not talking to you anymore. I make a point, and instead of addressing it, you start the “it’s not that bad” song and dance. You’re the one trying to argue that the FTC’s actions are good. If you can’t, fine. Say so. Don’t pretend like you can by hoping to get me confused and distracted by some other issue.



  19. Michael on October 8, 2009 at 12:13

    Honestly, how someone with the latest Macbook Pro in his hands can rant against civilisation…

    Whoa, did I miss something? Where is Richard’s rant against civilization?

    …on his weblog built on one of the greatest socialist experiments of all time (Open Source software in general and WordPress in particular) will forever remain mystery to me.

    Open Source and WordPress socialist?????????????????????????

    Now that is a mystery. Especially since one of the greatest advocates for open source on the web is a full blown anarchist, as is his wife!

    Goodbye Microsoft!

    Wendy McElroy

    Michael
    Nutrition and Physical Regeneration

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