Payola bloggers, FTC is watching you

A few years back, the blogosphere was gnashing its teeth about blogger payola -- taking perks and payments from advertisers and PR firms. Many bloggers justified the practice with "I take their money and write what I want anyway!

A few years back, the blogosphere was gnashing its teeth about blogger payola -- taking perks and payments from advertisers and PR firms. Many bloggers justified the practice with "I take their money and write what I want anyway!" and "Hey, this is my meal ticket and by the time my reputation is irreparably harmed I will be onto the Next Big Thing!"

The A-list noise went underground, but the practice didn't and it covers all matter of commerce. It's to the point, apparently, that the FTC is ready to start monitoring bloggers' claims and disclosures. The AP reports that the agency is poised to go after bloggers and the companies that fund them if they don't disclose their payments and conflicts of interest.

"If you walk into a department store, you know the (sales) clerk is a clerk," said Rich Cleland, assistant director in the FTC's division of advertising practices. "Online, if you think that somebody is providing you with independent advice and ... they have an economic motive for what they're saying, that's information a consumer should know."

This is clearly needed because the current "self-policing" situation is a joke. Articles like the AP's, which mention you can get $3,000 for a 200-word post flacking certain products, are likely to swell interest in grabbing some of the payola pie.

The rules would also apply to affiliate marketing programs like Amazon's, which raises some concerns. But the solution is simple enough: "If you buy this book through my site, Amazon pays me a few cents."

The best result of this would be that ZDNet readers can stop worrying about who's getting paid off by Apple, Microsoft and Google.

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