Companies see the freebies and payments to bloggers as a cheap way to boost brand buzz during the recession. But site visitors often don't realize they're reading a promotional pitch. Not all bloggers make clear that they are being compensated to talk up products, if they disclose it at all.
The Internet is becoming so rife with paid blogging that the Federal Trade Commission, which guards against false advertisements, is examining whether it should police bloggers. As it updates nearly 30-year-old advertising guidelines, the FTC is proposing that bloggers, and online marketers and companies that compensate them, be held liable for misleading claims. A decision from the commission is expected this summer. If it approves the guidelines, violations could spur investigations that in turn force bloggers to discontinue deceptive practices. If the deceptions don't stop, the FTC may require companies to repay customers.