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UK Targets Twitter and Blog Endorsements 77

Posted by samzenpus
from the who-do-you-work-for dept.
krou writes "The UK's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is cracking down on 'Twitter users and bloggers using their online presence to endorse products and companies without clearly stating their relationship with the brand.' They described such endorsements, including 'comments about services and products on blogs and microblogs such as Twitter,' as 'deceptive' under fair trading rules. While the US Federal Trade Commission already requires such endorsements to be labelled with 'ad' or 'spon,' the UK doesn't have any such requirement. In relation to this, the OFT has launched an investigation into Handpicked Media, because the OFT is 'insisting that it must clearly state when promotional comments have been paid for.'"
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UK Targets Twitter and Blog Endorsements

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  • Good luck (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dyinobal (1427207) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @11:27PM (#34819990)
    Good luck enforcing that, I wish you the best.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      " For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this."-Albert
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        " For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this."-Albert

        Yeah and they call it the War on Drugs or they call it the War on Piracy.

      • Why is this comment modded down? It's insightful, as far as I'm concerned.

        However, I personally feel that "adver-creep" is becoming the bane of civilization, and I'd like to see it curbed. Maybe this is a step in the right direction.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Who says it can't be enforced?

        It cannot be perfectly enforced, but then no other law can either. The obvious way to catch people doing this is to just hope that they're stupid, but even if not, all it takes is one irritated ex-employee to say "I spent the last six months pretending to be a satisified customer. Here are my fake account details, here are details of what I was paid for it."

        As long as there's a risk of being caught, you'll prevent a lot of it from happening.

        • Re:Good luck (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Builder (103701) on Monday January 10, 2011 @07:01AM (#34821740)

          The problem is with all of the laws that we have that there is _no_ intention of enforcing. Want a really good chance at a valid copyright case? Just arrest anyone walking around with a portable media player. We have no right to rip music from CDs that we own to digital formats, so the chances are that most people on the streets today are law breakers. But we have this law anyway.

          Bad laws only serve to bring all law into disrepute.

        • by h4rm0ny (722443)
          True. And it gives us a means to enforce things when we want to enforce them. I despise astroturfing and it's more sinister political cousins. Giving people the means to bring charges against such people, helps us fight it. It also shuts up the "it's not illegal so I've every right to do it" brigade. Not that there are many people sympathetic to astroturfers, but still.
          • Actually astroturfing is illegal in the US now. This and the law against louder TV ads are some laws the rest of the world should adopt ASAP. If the US must push laws on other countries, too bad it couldn't be these instead of their draconian IP laws...

    • by Seumas (6865)

      Thank god they're doing this, because I'm just too damn stupid to recognize obvious product placement and false endorsement when I see it. At least I know this email I got from a Nigerian ambassador is real!

  • on the internet that says "buy this" you should be smarter. If some random dude on the street said "buy this" would you?
    • by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @11:31PM (#34820016) Homepage Journal

      depends - what's he selling?

    • by lewko (195646)

      L. T. Smash: (Leans out of window) Hey, you! Join the Navy!
      Carl: Uh, yeah, all right.
      Lenny: I'm in.

    • by Kitkoan (1719118) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @11:42PM (#34820066)
      Pretty much every commercial is a random dude saying more or less 'buy this' and millions are likely to. All because some random dude told them 'buy this.
      • by Animats (122034) on Monday January 10, 2011 @12:15AM (#34820204) Homepage

        Pretty much every commercial is a random dude saying more or less 'buy this' and millions are likely to. All because some random dude told them 'buy this.

        Recommendations mean much more when they come from people who actually bought the product. Amazon and eBay have that property, because the recommendation system and the payment system are connected. Yelp, Citysearch, and their imitators do not. If recommendations are made to work, it will be by someone in the payment chain.

        • by nospam007 (722110)

          So you're saying the company has to buy one of their own products first before astroturfing on the recommendations?

          Yep, that will definitely stop them.

        • by Tim C (15259)

          Amazon and eBay have that property, because the recommendation system and the payment system are connected.

          I can't vouch for eBay, but on Amazon you most certainly do not have to have bought the product from them (or at all) in order to be able to submit a review.

          • I think that's one of the big failings of the system. Comments and reviews aren't exactly perfect statistical analysis, but some of the sampling bias could be reduced. Right now if someone of a fairly extreme viewpoint finds a book they've not even read they can go ahead and post a comment and review. This may balance out, but it can cause serious skewing if the author is well-known and attracts a great deal of controversy. At least requiring people to have bought the product from Amazon before commenting w

          • by Anonymous Coward

            But people who have bought it are shown as "Verified purchaser" or something. So their reviews are more likely to be accurate, although you should still salt them.

      • Your example is totally different, because that 'random dude' on TV is:

        a) very attractive
        b) has huge tits

        • by Kitkoan (1719118)
          Not every commercial is a TV commercial. Radio, mail fliers and internet ads tend to be text based. While people prefer to use attractive individuals to sell their products, it's not the only way.
          • Sure it's not the only way, but it sure is a popular way.

            And mail flyers and internet ads may have text, but lots of them are also tit-based.

            • Life is much better without ads, i stopped watching broadcast TV because of the ads, and i no longer listen to broadcast radio, all the media (with the exception of the Internet) i consume is ad free, the only thing i still see are product placements in movies and serials, but those at least aren't as obtrusive as those ad breaks every 5 seconds.
              • by xaxa (988988)

                This year I set my alarm to wake me up with the BBC World Service. I'm British and live in the UK, but the World Service isn't actually transmitted by radio here. I like it so far though, there's almost entirely international news and not much sport news, followed by some kind of radio documentary from somewhere. Time of day might significantly affect what programmes you hear, I'm not sure as I only listen between 8-9 GMT.

                Presumably other people like it, as it was the default internet stream in two of the A

              • You're saying that ads placed in movies and serials, that interfere with the content of what you're watching, aren't as obtrusive as ad breaks?

                I absolutely hate it, unless it's very subtle to the point that you hardly notice it, it feels like the most violent 4th wall break ever.

                • Got an example of one? Most are pretty subtle, like the brand of a car, a watch, a computer, i can't recall any obtrusive ones, but then again i don't consume that much movies & serials
                  • I believe you don't watch much, because the subtle ones are in the minority. Watch any episode of Smallville, certain episodes of CSI (loaded with advertising for MS products) or the last couple of James Bond movies and it will hit you in the face like a rusty advertising shovel. It's so jarring sometimes, it gives you the same kind of "knocked out of the world" feeling you get when someone interrupts you in the middle of writing complex code.

        • by gmhowell (26755)

          Maybe I'm unusual, but I find huge tits on a dude a disincentive to buy the product. Huge tits on a chick OTOH...

        • Well it's obvious why, isn't it? Would you be able to sit through all those ads if the people in them were hit repeatedly and brutally with the ugly stick?
          Attractive people catch the attention of the public long enough to be able to inflict you with the ads, but the ads don't require the attractive people in themselves to work, that's why they keep hitting you with the same ads over & over & over again, tell someone often enough that he needs that product and he'll buy it.
      • by blackraven14250 (902843) on Monday January 10, 2011 @12:42AM (#34820308)
        The difference with a commercial is that you know who paid the random dude to tell you to do so.
      • That's the most true thing I have seen on /.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheLink (130905)
        Whether it's OK is nothing to do with whether it's a random person or not.

        It's whether there is any deception involved.

        If they're falsely pretending to be a satisfied customer that has no ties with the seller, then that's deception.

        There's no need to resort to fancy reasons/analogies to figure out why it's wrong, or to try to justify it. Same goes with judging other money-making schemes people think of- is there deceit involved? The intentions also matter.

        Nothing wrong with making money.
      • The problem is advertisements disguised as something else. It's why you sometimes see what appears at a glance to be a multipage article with "advertising feature" across the top in magazines, for example.

    • by shish (588640)

      If some random dude on the street said "buy this" would you?

      It's not an order, but a statement of "I bought this and it was good", and often that is the deciding factor -- when the official specs are too confusing to make an objective assessment (eg, comparing computer parts from different manufacturers), and you don't know anyone with the expertise to have a valid trusted opinion, what is left but to go to the internet and take the average of the untrusted opinions?

  • Ethics (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lewko (195646) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @11:35PM (#34820034) Homepage

    It's a shame, if not altogether ironic that the government feels the need to legislate ethics.

    I also wonder whether users would be obliged to indicate if they were a competitor of a company, before slagging it off online.

    • I don't know if I would go so far as to call it a matter of "ethics." Quite frankly, the government should not be involved at all- what so ever but instead let the free market move as it does, and let the consumer decide if they really think a product is good because @Littlepuppy7 tweeted it. If she happened to have been paid $5000 to endorse a butt plug, lets hope its a good one otherwise it is her reputation on the line. It's like when a professional athlete wear's someone's logo. We don't require them to
      • Re:Ethics (Score:5, Interesting)

        by bit01 (644603) on Monday January 10, 2011 @12:24AM (#34820240)

        I don't know if I would go so far as to call it a matter of "ethics."

        Fraudulently pretending to be an objective third party for financial gain. That's ethics alright and the government should come down on them like a ton of bricks. Such people should be in jail if they make a habit of it.

        Think it doesn't matter? If it didn't agents would be happy to announce their affiliation. For some strange reason they don't. Why would that be I wonder?

        Apart from anything else company legal structures require accountability because they act as proxies for real people and when company agents can be anonymous there is no accountability.

        But less government invading the lives of the private sector the better.

        In general true but not when there is this amount of fraud going on.

        ---

        How many million man hours has the advertising industry cost today?

      • Quite frankly, the government should not be involved at all- what so ever but instead let the free market move as it does, and let the consumer decide if they really think a product is good because @Littlepuppy7 tweeted it.

        Does it matter in the slightest to you that history has proven that that does not work?

        In fact the legislation is being passed because it is proving NOW not to work.

        The free market relies on informed actors. In many cases, corporations can simply pay to swamp the opinions of people with

      • by AlecC (512609)

        I disagree. I am very mush in favour of the free market, but a free market needs full disclosure. I think the government definitely has a place in the market in defining and administering standards - which includes disclosure of interest. By all means let buyers make their own purchasing decisions, including to by, if they wish, substandard goods or goods endorsed by celebrities or whatever. But a market requires proper knowledge, and the consumer is at a huge disadvantage compared to large corporations unl

    • It's a shame, if not altogether ironic that the government feels the need to legislate ethics.

      Is that not basically what all legislation is?

    • by krou (1027572)

      I also wonder whether users would be obliged to indicate if they were a competitor of a company, before slagging it off online.

      I may be mistaken, but I believe that that is illegal in the UK (or, rather, under European law it is illegal). Of course, proving it is another matter. On the other hand, there's also UK's libel laws, so if someone did post such a review, they could face libel prosecution. It's also illegal to post reviews of your own business/product.

  • something i miss (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 09, 2011 @11:46PM (#34820074)

    I miss the more innocent age of the internet before there was astroturfing.

    These days, I more or less assume any favorable opinion about a commercial product is astroturfed, unless I have compelling evidence to the contrary.

    • by lewko (195646)

      I miss the more innocent age of the internet before there was goatse.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      How about compelling evidence that it *is* being astroturfed? Businesses are getting so brazen at this that they just come right out and say it in written form that they'll give something in return for positive reviews...

      newsletter asking to shill [flic.kr]

      Yelp review [yelp.com] calling out owner with a *response* from the owner

    • You want back the old days? I just used ACME's SuperMassiveNostalgiaFactory to make the Internet just the way I remembered it 15 years ago. You should really try it [youtube.com]!
      Results in 10 minutes, and I hear they have a 30 days no questions asked guarantee. Really great stuff. All my family uses it!!!1!111!

    • by lee1 (219161)
      Although flat-out astroturfing is usually obvious to the clued-in, there are more subtle [lee-phillips.org] forms of influence that may be tainting more online commentary than we might suspect. In the case of this blogger, he was not only accepting advertising but had received a free copy of the software that he was praising (~ $300), yet he seemed to honestly think there was no problem. And the software publisher [markbernstein.org], if his email to me is to be believed, actually doesn't think that he's paying for reviews.
  • UK do have rules... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by oliverthered (187439)

    There are rules in the UK and even the advertising standards agency and also trade descriptions legalisation.
    And they do deal with internet adverts just as much as any other kind.
    If a 'false claim' is made then that a breach of advertising rules.
    But if the claims are true, does it matter?

    Also if it appears on the companies own site or publication it's not an advertisement. (can't remember what the ASA/Traiding stands calls that), but I think it comes under the OFT.

    So if it's an email, or in twitter or anywh

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by scdeimos (632778)

      I've reported a few people who for instance, claim to be able to predict the future.

      Damn, they should have seen that coming!

    • by Rakishi (759894)

      I've reported a few people who for instance, claim to be able to predict the future.

      Be careful, if you claim that in public then they can sue you for libel. Sure you'll win probably but it'll cost you $200k or so. More if you lose or run out of money to defend yourself with.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I've reported a few people who for instance, claim to be able to predict the future.

        Be careful, if you claim that in public then they can sue you for libel. Sure you'll win probably but it'll cost you $200k or so. More if you lose or run out of money to defend yourself with.

        Not in the case of 'psychics', even in Britain. These particular type of frauds have actually been recognised as such by the courts already and must declare that they provide their 'services' for entertainment value only and do not insinuate that they can actually tell the future. So the GP was reporting them for actually having broken the law, and it would be hard for them to sue them for saying something that the Courts themselves have already said by proxy.

    • Also if it appears on the companies own site or publication it's not an advertisement. (can't remember what the ASA/Traiding stands calls that), but I think it comes under the OFT.

      Yup, that's been my experience. I complained to the ASA a while ago about misleading claims on the Virgin Media web site. Their response was that claims on a company's own web site are not covered by advertising regulations. Seems weird, since an advert in a physical store's window is covered, but one in their online store is not.

      the UK has something called a parliamentary monarchy. That means that parliament acts as the monarch

      Nope, it means that the monarch acts as the monarch and parliament is appointed by the monarch and can place certain constraints on the power of the monarch. In practice, the m

      • It's not an advert it's a description of a trade, so covered by trading standards and statuary rights of sale. (or the OFT but that's a bit different).

        Also OFTEL or whoever, but there carper than if Murdock himself run the bloody thing.

  • If Anyone says they like anything or uses anything on a facebook or twitter account, you can be pretty sure they aren't doing it for free. And if they insist they don't work for the company, then they definitely do. And if they say something is crap, then they probably work for a competitor, altho that isn't always the case. For instance Bell Canada sucks, but they have no competitors.
    • by mwvdlee (775178)

      Bell Canada certainly has competitors. Maybe not in every marketplace, but definitely in some.
      But ofcourse you already knew that, seeing as you are working for one of their competitors. Don't try to insist you don't, it only proves it more.

    • by telso (924323)

      Saying Bell Canada sucks doesn't mean you work for a competitor; it means you're Canadian. (And you know I'm not shilling for a competitor, because no matter what business of Bell you're talking about (local landline, long distance landline, cell, dialup, DSL, TV), their competitors suck too. I have yet to find a good telecommunications company in Canada; in fact, there are only two companies of any type that operate in Canada that it's always been a pleasure to deal with, and both their head offices are

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        I don't think there's anyone who likes their telecommunications company at all, regardless of citizenship. At best, we merely tolerate them because they provide services people need, and the competition isn't that much better either.

        Be it TV, internet or phone, everyone really is sick of whomever provides the service. All the services are too expensive, the price always go up, customer service sucks, and they always overbill. And there's little effort to improve since if the rest of the competition is equal

    • Re:Good Grief (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ledow (319597) on Monday January 10, 2011 @05:57AM (#34821400) Homepage

      The "Like" thing is usually true, or they just want to see the hidden picture / enter the competition that requires them to "like" it first. However, the "this sucks" portion is generally not true. If someone says something sucks on such sites, they *normally* think it does.

      However, the MUCH bigger question - what idiot listens to their Facebook/Twitter friend's opinion when they are buying something for themselves, without at least asking *WHY* it sucks? People always tell me that X sucks but with no explanation. People still can't explain to me why, all of a sudden, Windows XP sucks. Or OpenOffice sucks. Or Opera sucks. If they provide reasons, those reasons are usually exactly WHY I want to use it (i.e. Opera has a built-in mail client and doesn't execute ActiveX). They normally don't like it, or it's not suited to their way of working, or it has problems they don't like, or (infinitely more likely) they haven't *really* given it a fair chance and it's fashionable to say anything non-standard sucks. That's *their* opinion and doesn't automatically mean that everyone works the same or, even if they do, that they will find it as sucky.

      There are friends I have that, if they HATE a movie, I'm almost guaranteed to like it and vice versa. There are friends who piss their money away on gadgets that I think are useless or that don't suit my method of working at all. There is no point in me owning a machine that I can't easily write my own software for, for example - so their iPods and iPhones and iBooks are effectively a "games console" computer in my opinion, whereas my old XP image that's followed me onto four different laptops is much better AND plays all the games I want. They don't see it that way so my "old, sucky" laptop whose efficiency and speed WOULD be destroyed within a few months of *their* use of the same machine through mismanagement is actually perfect for me.

      We bought the head of the school I work at an iPad when he retired. He was an old-school computing guy, though, so he sold it on eBay shortly afterwards. But the 600MHz Mini-ITX with triple boot DOS, Linux and Windows XP that I built for him, with built-in Soundblaster compatibility, was a million times more suitable and he took it with him to his house in the South of France. To anyone else, it probably "sucked", but for him it was perfect. I have friends that only buy Sony. I have friends that spend money on Farmville. I have friends that live by their iPhone and yet can't work out how to use 1% of it's functions. I have friends that can't operate my laptop because the touchpad (again, personal preference) is slightly offset to the left and doesn't have a defined scroll area, but it's perfect for me, because Autoplay is completely disable, and because to play a DVD you have to load VLC manually. I have a friend who only buys whatever Which magazine tells him to buy.

      "Suckiness" is dependent on the user. Opinions matter but only of those people whose opinions matter to me. The chances of random "Yeah, this is cool" or "This sucks" actually affecting *ANYTHING* I do are incredibly minimal unless it's backed up by reasoning, experience and trust. You have to weight each opinion by those factors and if you do that, any astroturfing will actually end up on the bottom of the pile rather than the top. And even among the people I speak to the most, there are some where I wouldn't *touch* anything they recommended because they are inherently different to me. The person I know who works at Rackspace has been brainwashed, so I instantly discredit their opinion on hosting and network hardware because they try to simulate the datacentre they work in inside everyone's house including their own - it's *not* suitable for the majority of cases and even when it *is* suitable, I happen to think that Rackspace suck and most of what they do internally sucks. If I didn't discredit their opinion, I'd basically be up to my nose in overly expensive Cisco hardware and yet have substandard capabilities compared to what I hav

  • PerfHappyMum (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fremsley471 (792813) on Monday January 10, 2011 @02:54AM (#34820714)
    For those dopey slashdotters like me who assumed most astroturfing is the PR dept of a major firm coming back from their Friday lunch, follow the link in the summary. Took a random path through handpickedmedia's website and then read the twitter posts of PerfHappyMum. Seems just like every other life coach (what the hell are THEY?);
    children asleep two hours early!
    soon followed by
    Just leaving the preview screening of "tangled", most refreshing cartoon since Shreck, loved it

    "She" is in the parenting "channel" of handpicked's website but on Twitter there is no indication it's paid for. Assume that a significant amount of the conversation is with other handpickedmedia's 'channels'? If they can investigate the volume going up in the adverts (what did happen to that Ofcom report? Anyone know?) then this is an organisation of cynicism that has shocked me.
  • suddenoutbreakofcommonsense
  • This isn't too hard. Assume that everything is crap and everybody selling something is lying to you.

    Let the burden of proof rest upon reputations proving otherwise. There are writers/organizations who work hard to achieve such reputations, so take advantage of their labor. Incrementally learn to trust sources or gain that trust from other people whom you trust who have identified those sources (old friends are good to have).

    Teach your children not to believe strangers trying to sell them something, no ma

: is not an identifier

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