FTC has new cop for consumers

David Vladeck, the new director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, is a civil rights and free speech advocate with a strong determination to better protect consumers from scams, both online and offline. Read a longer profile of him here.

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I asked him specifically about the agency's new endorsement guidelines for bloggers, which requires bloggers to tell readers if they received free samples of products they write about. (See my previous posts for more information on this.) Vladeck wasn't at the FTC when the review of endorsement guides was initiated, but he signed off on them and recommended their approval by the Commission. He said he thinks "they are an important step forward for consumer protection."

And he points out that not all bloggers were upset about the new disclosure guidelines. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association is one trade group that supports the rules, and Vladeck said the agency has gotten good feedback from congressional offices.

It is also a myth that the FTC will fine bloggers upwards of $11,000 for violations. If the FTC finds bloggers or online marketers are engaging in deceptive practices, the agency can bring a case only if there is real consumer injury. Vladeck said the guide is simply advice, not a hardfast rule, and the FTC cannot bring an enforcement case based on an advertiser's or blogger's failure to follow the guidelines.

The FTC is not considering revising the guide. In fact, Vladeck said he believes "they set a reasonable standard and that if they are applied in a common sense way, they will result in greater transparency on the Internet and not curb or in any way inhibit commentary."