Mobile and Social Media is Focus of Latest Online Ad Rules from the FTC

By Joe Rizzo March 13, 2013

"Advertisers should make sure their disclosures are clear and conspicuous on all devices and platforms that consumers may use to view their ads." This statement comes from the recently updated guidelines for online advertising and was said by Lesley Fair of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

These revamped mandates come nearly 13 years after the first regulations of its kind were unveiled. The last report that was issued back in 2000. The FTC wants to hold online advertisers to the same standards on honesty and full disclosure that it does for newspapers and television.

The FTC is an independent agency of the U.S. government. It was established in 1914 by the Federal Trade Commission Act and its principal mission is the promotion of consumer protection and the elimination and prevention of anti-competitive business practices, such as coercive monopoly.

The argument is that there is limited space on mobile platforms. The space that is available on mobile or social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook makes it difficult to place appropriate disclosures close enough to the ad, or prominently enough, to ensure users see it. What they are basically saying is that they only have enough space to show the ads and nothing else.

The report states that advertisers should think twice about placing promotional messages on mobile and social media platforms. If those ads require disclosures or disclaimers to avoid being deceptive or unfair it needs to be stated and in such a way that it is connected to the ad.

Fair went on to say, "That means that if an ad would be deceptive or unfair (or would otherwise violate an FTC rule) without a disclosure, but the disclosure can't be made clearly and conspicuously on a particular device or platform, then that ad shouldn't run on that device or platform." The FTC also discourages the use of pop-ups for disclosures. This is mostly due to the fact that just about everyone blocks pop-up ads. In doing so, they would never see any disclosure information.

In Tuesday’s, March 12, 2013 report, the FTC added, "Most Web pages viewable on desktop devices may also be viewable on smartphones. Advertisers should design the website so that any necessary disclosures are clear and conspicuous, regardless of the device on which they are displayed."

Eric Goldman is a professor of law and director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law. He revealed that the FTC’s guideline places the disclosure and honesty burden on the advertisers and people who receive payments for products rather than on the social media companies.

Goldman went on to comment, "I don't see anything that specifically tells Twitter, Facebook or other platforms how they have to design their platform. The guidelines don't have the force of law, but the FTC is trying to let industry know what it expects industry to do, and when the industry doesn't do what the FTC wants, the FTC tends to get cranky."

If you read a lot of the ads that you see in newspapers or in subway cars it states in large print, “paid spokesperson for.” It also shows any information that you need to know about a product or service. There is no reason that mobile or social media platforms cannot have the same information. There are a lot of ads on the social media pages and you should know all the information about those ads before you click on them.

Edited by Jamie Epstein

TechZone360 Contributing Writer

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