Attempts at Internet Regulation In An Explosive Market

Let’s face it: within two decades, the internet has gone from a highly specialized form of military communications to something that we can’t function without. Compared to forms of traditional media, the internet’s growth has exploded faster than anything ever seen- It took 38 years for television to reach 50 million people. It took the internet 5 years. It took Facebook 9 months.

So it’s not surprising that it has taken Washington a while to catch up.

Currently, the Federal Trade Commission has jurisdiction over email advertising, website advertising, SEO and any other online message that could be considered misleading to consumers. The FTC’s position on the internet can be summed up from the following excerpt from its 17-page guide, Dot Com Disclosures:

“Although the number of companies advertising online and the number of consumers shopping online are soaring, fraud and deception may dampen consumer confidence in the e-marketplace. But cyberspace is not without boundaries, and fraud and deception are unlawful no matter what the medium. The FTC has enforced and will continue enforcing its consumer protection laws online to ensure that products and services are described truthfully in online ads and that consumers get what they pay for. These activities benefit consumers as well as sellers, who expect and deserve a fair marketplace. Many of the general principles of advertising law apply to Internet ads, but new issues arise almost as fast as technology develops.7

Efforts to regulate the internet have been varied, but consistent over the past several years. Bloggers are now required to disclose any connections to products and services they mention (http://mashable.com/2009/10/05/ftc-blogger-endorsements/) and Congress has been exploring options for legislating cybersecurity (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leslie-harris/cybersecurity-lots-of-ans_b_866644.html).

Recent discussions over behavioral advertising have resulted in the FTC agreeing to let the advertising industry try to self-regulate before it takes action. The Interactive Advertising Bureau has published a set of guidelines for behavioral advertising (http://www.iab.net/public_policy/behavioral-advertisingprinciples) that coincides with principle’s the FTC proposed back in 2009 and the Self-Regulatory Program For Behavioral Advertising has become an effective program for helping companies incorporate those changes.

Take a second to look over the Program’s website and determine if the behavioral ads you are running are compliant. (http://www.aboutads.info/)

Author: Laura Brown

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