Back in December, the Federal Trade Commission released new guidelines that specifically required bloggers to disclose any material connections to a product or company they are writing about. In May, they brought their first action under those guidelines against Ann Taylor. The FTC declined to bring an enforcement action.
Last week, they brought their second action. A public relations agency hired by video game developers had employees pose as ordinary consumers posting game reviews at the online iTunes store, and did not disclose that the reviews came from paid employees working on behalf of the developers.
This time they decided to enforce. Reverb Communications, Inc. and its sole owner, Tracie Snitker, are required to remove any posted endorsements that misrepresent the authors and fail to disclose the connection between Reverb and Snitker and the seller of a product or service. Reverb would get paid to promote the games and would often get paid a percentage of sales.
The posted reviews were published between November 2008 and May 2009. The endorsed products by giving them 4 and 5 star ratings in iTunes. They also submitted positive written comments like these:
- “Amazing new game”
- “ONE of the BEST”
- “One of the best apps just got better”
I’m sure you noticed that the publication dates of the reviews predate the new guidelines were finally adopted. That means the FTC is willing to go back retroactively and enforce these guidelines.
- FTC Press Release: Public Relations Firm to Settle FTC Charges that It Advertised Clients’ Gaming Apps Through Misleading Online Endorsements
- Agreement Containing Consent Order In the Matter of Reverb Communications, Inc. and Tracie Snitker
- Complaint In the Matter of Reverb Communications, Inc. and Tracie Snitke
- Analysis of Agreement Containing Consent Order To Aid Public Comment
- FTC and Bloggers – prior post on Compliance Building
- Charges Settled Over Fake Reviews on iTunes By Miguel Helft in the New York Times