FTC to go after product reviews bloggers who accept freebies

The Federal Trade Commission is planning to crack down on bloggers who review or promote products while earning freebies or payments, according to an Associated Press report.That means bloggers who review gadgets -- such as this one -- would be subject to FTC guidelines that ban deceptive or unfair business practices.

The Federal Trade Commission is planning to crack down on bloggers who review or promote products while earning freebies or payments, according to an Associated Press report.

That means bloggers who review gadgets -- such as this one -- would be subject to FTC guidelines that ban deceptive or unfair business practices.

The AP reports:

"New guidelines, expected to be approved late this summer with possible modifications, would clarify that the agency can go after bloggers--as well as the companies that compensate them--for any false claims or failure to disclose conflicts of interest."

Journalists, including the one responsible for this post you're reading, generally follow ethical guidelines and adhere to a preset (low) dollar amount for received items of value. Here at ZDNet, we have house rules for this.

But bloggers, particularly those who don't have to answer to an established employer, haven't yet been subject to these rules.

CNET's Caroline McCarthy demonstrates when the public relations-press give-and-take goes awry:

Microsoft, for example, created a wave of bad press a few years ago when it gave free Acer laptops preloaded with Windows Vista to several dozen bloggers.

Those bloggers included GigaOm's Om Malik, TechCrunch's Michael Arrington, Long Zheng and our own Mary Jo Foley and Ed Bott.

Under the rules, any incentives are subject to scrutiny, including but not limited to: free trips, products, gift certificates, direct payments, even affiliate links, such as for music or movies on, for example, Amazon.com.

The ethical waters grow even murkier in determining whether a blog denied hiring bloggers because they previously have or may give negative coverage to a particular product or company.

While such rules sound acceptable, practice differs from theory. There is concern that the FTC's efforts could go too far, probing into opinion or reviews posts that were written without any compensation. There is concern that such investigation would stop bloggers from posting strong opinions about a product or a company. And there is the reality that there are far more bloggers than there are FTC employees.

Is this really the best use the FTC's time, energy and budget?