#GamerGate scores again: FTC updates disclosure guidelines

A large component of #GamerGate’s effectiveness stems from its diversity and flexibility. They’re like a swarm of bees attacking from every direction, so while any individual victory might not be a fatal blow, opposing them gets increasingly painful over time.

When Gawker whacked the beehive last fall, it ended up costing them some seven figures in ad revenue, and while some gamers were contacting the advertisers directly, other gamers were letting the Federal Trade Commission know about business practices they’d seen that they considered shady.

It appears that effort has finally paid off, as the FTC has updated its endorsement guidelines in ways that directly address the concerns raised by gamers.  The endorsement guidelines are essentially the rules governing proper disclosure in regards to product reviews and advertisements, particularly when it comes to the Internet.  Though they don’t have the direct force of law, “practices inconsistent with the Guides may result in law enforcement actions for violations of the FTC Act.”

The most prominent update noticed by the gamers that reflects their complaints involves “affiliate links”, which are essentially when somebody links to a product and gets paid a commission for visitors purchasing through that link.  For example, if I were to write a glowing review of Mary Katherine Ham and Guy Benson’s new book End of Discussion for HotAir and included a link to buy the book, I would be obligated to clearly disclose if either myself or HotAir received some sort of commission on purchases made through that link.

Is “affiliate link” by itself an adequate disclosure? What about a “buy now” button?
Consumers might not understand that “affiliate link” means that the person placing the link is getting paid for purchases through the link. Similarly, a “buy now” button would not be adequate.

Does this guidance about affiliate links apply to links in my product reviews on someone else’s website, to my user comments, and to my tweets?
Yes, the same guidance applies anytime you endorse a product and get paid through affiliate links.

They also included several passages dealing specifically with video game reviews and streaming and the like.

I’m doing a review of a videogame that hasn’t been released yet. The manufacturer is paying me to try the game and review it. I was planning on disclosing that the manufacturer gave me a “sneak peak” of the game. Isn’t that enough to put people on notice of my relationship to the manufacturer?

No, it’s not. Getting early access doesn’t mean that you got paid. Getting a “sneak peak” of the game doesn’t even mean that you get to keep the game. If you get early access, you can say that, but if you are paid, you should say so.

I guess I need to make a disclosure that I’ve gotten paid for a video review that I’m uploading to YouTube. When in the review should I make the disclosure? Is it ok if it’s at the end?
It’s more likely that a disclosure at the end of the video will be missed, especially if someone doesn’t watch the whole thing. Having it at the beginning of the review would be better. Having multiple disclosures during the video would be even better. Of course, no one should promote a link to your review that bypasses the beginning of the video and skips over the disclosure. If YouTube has been enabled to run ads during your video, a disclosure that is obscured by ads is not clear and conspicuous.

I’m getting paid to do a videogame playthrough and give commentary while I’m playing. The playthrough – which will last several hours – will be live streamed. Would a disclosure at the beginning of the stream be ok?
Since viewers can tune in any time, they could easily miss a disclosure at the beginning of the stream or at any other single point in the stream. People should see a disclosure no matter when they tune in. There could be multiple, periodic disclosures throughout the stream. To be cautious, you could have a continuous, clear and conspicuous disclosure throughout the entire stream.

Perhaps most amusingly, the FTC received so many FOIA requests concerning Gawker that they’ve added a form letter to their frequently requested records section explaining the records are exempt because they could “interfere with the conduct of the Commission’s law enforcement activities.”

So dismiss #GamerGate all you like, but they’re winning.

(h/t to Sarjex for the Vivian James graphic.)