Genii Weblog

Sorting out the implications of the FTC ruling

Fri 9 Oct 2009, 11:25 AM

by Ben Langhinrichs
I am getting past the flu, and have a number of projects to finish before 8.5.1 comes out, but I couldn't resist jumping in on the FTC ruling about bloggers disclosing when they have received payment or free products in exchange for reviewing a product or service.  There are lots of different angles, but I am going to take on one I haven't seen discussed much.

When is a product considered free, and when is it not?

This may seem obvious in the case of a laptop or other product that has a specific cost for anybody who wants to buy it, but software products and services may be less clear.  For example, is Twitter free?  Does a blogger or advertiser need to disclose that they got the Twitter service for free when blogging about Twitter?  Sound ridiculous?  Sure, because Twitter is always free, right?  

So, let's up the ante a bit.  Is GMail free?  Does a blogger or advertiser need to disclose that they got the GMail service for free when blogging about GMail?  At first glance, that is the same, but many companies do pay for GMail as part of GAPE.  So, can we say that if the product is free to some but not to others, those for whom it is not free should disclose that fact?  Still, some would argue that it is quite clear that GMail accounts are available for free.

So, let's up the ante again.  Is Domino Designer free?  Does a blogger or advertiser need to disclose that they got the Domino Designer software for free when blogging about Lotus Notes?  How about our iFidelity product, or any other software product that has a free license for IBM Business Partners?  What if a product was free for any bloggers, or for any company smaller than 10 people?  And, to make matters even worse, what about beta copies of software? How do you distinguish what is free when it is sometimes free and sometimes not? 

These, by the way, are not just idle questions.  To protect my customers, I'd like to advise the 50+ companies who are using a free iFidelity license whether they need to disclose that if they happen to blog about it or write about it.  How do I advise them?

Copyright 2009 Genii Software Ltd.

What has been said:

874.1. Brian O'Donovan
(10/10/2009 03:05 PM)

I am not a lawyer and don't claim to have any legal expertise. However, common sense would suggest that the requirement to disclose that you got something for free would only apply when other people have to pay for the item.

In the two cases you mention (GNail and Domino Designer) they are free to everyone (although in the case of GMail it could be argued that you pay by watching adds). So I don't see any need to declare this as a free service.

After all you wouldn't declare that the city authorities gave you the free service of allowing you to walk along the pavement.

874.2. Keith Brooks
(10/13/2009 01:42 AM)

I give credit where credit is due, don't steal others posts without linking to them, and if I got something for free or like the product explain how I got it, if NOT by purchase.

Honesty is always the best policy.

Which is why i turned down Technorati which required their bloggers to reference amazon in EVERY post.