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IAB to FTC: Dump the new blogger rules

Guidelines requiring bloggers to disclose freebies and giveaways unfairly target online media in ways not regulated offline, Internet Advertising Bureau CEO argued.

The Internet Advertising Bureau has come out against new guidelines proposed by the Federal Trade Commission that would require bloggers to disclose their affiliations with sponsors, marketers, and free giveaways. The reason? The IAB claims that the rules unfairly regulate online media more than offline.

"What concerns us the most in these revisions is that the Internet, the cheapest, most widely accessible communications medium ever invented, would have less freedom than other media," IAB president and CEO Randall Rothenberg wrote in an open letter to FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz. "These revisions are punitive to the online world and unfairly distinguish between the same speech, based on the medium in which it is delivered. The practices have long been afforded strong First Amendment protections in traditional media outlets, but the Commission is saying that the same speech deserves fewer Constitutional protections online."

He illustrated it with a personal example:

So there I was last Saturday, about to send out on my Twitter feed--which automatically updates my Facebook page and links to my personal blog--a photograph of this wonderful baked halibut dish I'd just made as a surprise for my wife. I was in the middle of typing a rave review of the recipe, which I'd pulled from my favorite cookbook, "Delicioso! The Regional Cooking of Spain" by Penelope Casas. But before I could press the 'post' button, I stopped and canceled the whole thing.

I remembered that the book was a freebie, sent to me by an editor at the Alfred A. Knopf publishing house 13 years ago. And I didn't want you guys to haul me into court and fine me for violating the rules you've just promulgated to muzzle social media.

The FTC has said that the rules, which stipulate that violations may face up to $11,000 in fines, are designed for education rather than punishment. But Rothenberg isn't buying it.

"The Guides do allow you to pursue bloggers," he insisted. "They do hold individuals more liable than larger corporations. They do explicitly say online social media have less protection than offline corporate media. They do obstruct online companies' opportunities to drive cultural conversation more than offline companies'. They do threaten with prosecution book publishers, movie producers, and other companies that supply products to individual social media conversationalists."

The bigger problem is that offline media isn't subject to the same restrictions, he explained. And, according to the letter, clamping down on one medium but not another constitutes a First Amendment violation.

The FTC has not yet responded publicly.