Monday, November 16, 2009

Rules about Blogs becaues Blogs RULE!

There are now laws about blogging and twittering that Lance and I (and all the bloggers) will need to be aware of. Here is a short summary:
  1. If a blogger posts about a product that she got for free then she must disclose that she got it for free. (Applies to guys also.)
  2. There are no such laws for traditional media.

Some questions:
  1. What problem is this trying to solve? Did Lance get a free copy of some textbook, twitter about it, and it sold 1,000,000 copies? Or did Alaska Nebraska twitter about (say) a car she got for free and it sold alot? And if she did, so what? If the book or car is terrible then Lance's and Alaska's credibility will go down and people will stop following them. Thats how the free market is supposed to work. But does it?
  2. Lets say that the evil trying to be prevented here is that Alaska Nebraka takes the car as a bribe and gives it a good review. Should that be illegal? And if so, why is that okay in old media? Because nobody pays attention to old media anymore?
  3. If Lance just took straight-up-cash to write a good review, is that illegal?
  4. If I get something for free, do not acknowledge that I got it for free, and TRASH IT on the blog, is that illegal?
What will Lance and I do? Well, in my SIGACT NEWS book review column I will put at the top of every column that the books were given to me for free. And if I ever comment about something I got for free (again, likely a book) then I will note that fact.

The wallet that Lance blogged about here is AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!


  1. I think you mean "and all the bloggers who live in the US"

    Michael Nielsen

  2. If a blogger posts about a product that she got for free then she must disclose that she got it for free. (Applies to guys also.)

    If I get a guy for free I have to disclose it?!

  3. What problem is this trying to solve?

    Obviously academic blogs (at least TCS blogs) don't really have a problem with this, but apparently some of the more popular parenting bloggers, for instance, have been paid to endorse products. So the FTC isn't going after a problem that doesn't exist.

  4. I think this is really not a problem for non-profit (and non-profiteer) bloggers. But there are many blogs out there whose main purpose is to sell products. People should be skeptical enough to know better, but disclosure is probably a good idea. I doubt that the government can enforce this - or even that they will try. They can use the law only when they need it to go after egregious offenders.
    Steven Salzberg

  5. Harrison and other intelligent commenters:
    YES it is a real problem
    perhaps, but why BLOGS and TWITS and not traditional media?

  6. When someone with a fair amount of publicity (MSM, high traffic blog, etc.) reviews something, I assume they got it for free, or at least got to try it for free. Unless they explicitly say otherwise. Giving free things to media seems like a reasonable marketing strategy to me, and I don't have a problem with it unless the reviewer is actively deceptive. If someone reviews a lot of stuff, it would cost a lot to buy it all. And you need access to a product in order to review it, obviously. Of course, it never hurts to be explicit about how the reviewer got to try the product.

    Receiving payments, however, feels like a whole different ballgame to me. The payment does not help the person review the product. And it creates a more clear and direct conflict of interest.

    As far as the ALL-ET, I bought one. I'm quite pleased with the form factor -- I hate the bulk of wallet. But it's already showing quite a bit of wear and it's only 14 months old.

  7. A tricky case to watch out for:

    "I just read this great paper by Steve Cook"

    e.g., might need to become

    "I just read this great paper by Steve Cook (it's gated online, but I got free access thru my university affiliation)"

  8. Although it may appear that theory blogs are non-profit there can be subtle issues. Recently Michael Mitzenmacher discussed a new book on concentration of measure by Dubhashi and Panconesi. He put a link on the page to Amazon and I clicked on it. It appears that if I did purchase the book from that link then Michael would get a cut. I may be wrong on this. It bothered me a bit that this was not disclosed explicitly.

  9. What ARE the rules for print? There are rules for TV and radio. Consider payola in radio.

  10. There are truth-in-advertising guidelines. There have been for years. Now they apply to bloggers too.

  11. Are bloggers journalists? I would argue that most are not, and that some might as well be giving celebrity endorsements. The FTC has had rules dating back to the 1970s and are simply clarifying them to keep up with the times.

  12. The Mysterious Anonymous9:19 PM, November 16, 2009

    Are you familiar with the FTC Act? It prohibits "unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce" and this applies to newspapers (and has for decades).

    As for the comparison to celebrities, they are recognized as such and their endorsements are generally assumed to be compensated in some way. We don't know what type of blogger each one is or whether they've been given something in exchange for a review.

  13. It's because of the parenting blogs, like harrison said. A lot of "mommy-bloggers" have built up a rather large audience, and their blog entries read like they're just writing something for a few friends to read. So some of their readers basically mistake their paid endorsements for honest opinions and recommendations, rather than advertisements.

  14. Let me do a full disclosure: There are my academic affiliations with Northwestern and TTI-Chicago. We receive some compensation for advertising on the Google adwords via the Scientific American Partner network and, like Mitzenmacher, participate in the Amazon affiliates program. In the past I have had a few short consulting gigs with Yahoo Research and get the occasional honorarium from talks, reviewing books, serving on review committees. Publishers occasionally send me free books and other material. If I do review something I get for free, I'll mention that fact.

    I won't purposely mislead you readers, but I will surely break the letter of the new law in some way. For example, a friend of mine at Google gave me a Wave account. Do I need to mention that every time I blog or tweet about Google Wave?

  15. So if I'm an invited speaker at a conference, and I get a free trip out of it, and I then blog about the conference, I have to brag about how I'm getting a free trip? How crass.

  16. Anonymous #8: Sorry this bothered you. I don't post it every time I mention a book, but I have stated in the past on my blog that I use Affiliate links. See