May 31, 2012, 3:30 PM — The FTC on Wednesday held a day-long workshop to solicit input from a variety of industry members, consumer advocates and other stakeholders as staffers work to update the Dot Com Disclosures the agency enacted in 2000 (available for download here.
"What a difference a decade makes. When Dot Com Disclosures was issued, who could have imagined the world we live in now?" said FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen.
The FTC's efforts to update its disclosure guidance come amid the agency's ongoing work on the broader issue of consumer privacy in the digital age. In March, the FTC released a set of guidelines for online marketers and data brokers, appealing to the industry to develop a framework for implementing a do-not-track mechanism that would allow Web users to opt out of behavioral targeting and other online data-collection across a broad network of advertising firms.
In the areas of mobile and social media advertising, Ohlhausen signaled that the agency is likely to continue to prod the industry to adopt best practices on its own, rather than, say, appealing to Congress for stronger regulatory authority. That approach would leave the agency to pursue individual enforcement actions against firms alleged to have engaged in unfair or deceptive trade practices, areas where the FTC has explicit statutory authority.
"[W]e are strong advocates of industry self-regulation. However, we also believe that self-regulation usually works best when it's backed up by a law enforcement presence. At the same time, we are cognizant of how fast technology is evolving. And we understand the need for and benefits of innovation," Ohlhausen said. "The collective goal of today's discussion is ... to explore and develop best practices for advertising and privacy disclosures in social media and on mobile devices. Clear and conspicuous disclosures have an obvious consumer benefit."
She noted that the FTC Act, the agency's charter statute, mandates that advertisers offer a disclosure if they are making a claim that would likely mislead consumers without significant qualifying information. So while it is common to see a disclosure along the lines of "results not typical" at the bottom of the screen during a TV spot advertising a weight-loss product, implementing meaningful disclosures gets murkier when the advertising creative is condensed to fit a three-inch mobile screen, or in the realm of social media, where advertisers are looking to tap into users' networks of friends to generate trusted referrals.