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FTC and Affiliate Links

© June 2009 Anthony Lawrence

A lot of bloggers and web sites make money from ads, affiliate links and from pushing their own products and services. I do all of that here - other than services, none of it makes much money, but all together the small stuff brings in more than enough to pay the rent.

The FTC recently announced concerns about such links. That's what prompted me to add the boiler-plate text you now see at the end of each article here.

I had never thought about about conflict of interest on book reviews and other small items. When I do a review on Kerio. I've almost always mentioned that I am a reseller, but I just never thought it necessary for things like book reviews. Apparently it is. That's fine - I'm not trying to hide anything. My reviews are always honest whether I can make anything from a referral link or not.

I'm hoping that blanket disclaimer is enough. It would be an incredible amount of work to specifically identify each link that might possibly run afoul of FTC rules. Just finding those would be hard, and bracketing them with some legal notice would be even more work. I could do some of that programmatically, but I'm not sure I could catch everything that way.

The article reference above talks about things like $500 gift cards and $3,000 trips - I haven't gotten any of those. I get free books regularly and free products to test now and then (though some of those have to be sent back so they aren't really "gifts"). The affiliate links I run are seldom worth more than a few dollars - commissions generally run 10% - 30%, occasionally reaching 50%. Many are worth even less than a dollar.

So why do it at all? Well, as I said, it adds up. A dollar here, twenty cents there, ten dollars now and then - at the and of the month it can be a decent pile. The links are also a convenience to readers: if you like the thing I wrote about, there's the link to go buy it.

However, if this becomes a major hassle, I'd need to rethink it. It isn't hard to imagine how this could get out of hand. For example, yesterday I posted a review of Voila and included an affiliate link (worth an unusual 30% commission, by the way). The review itself has the "disclosure", but at other places around the site I run ads for MacUpdate's Daily Promos . That could easily be a promo for Voila some day. If it is, would I be violating FTC rules? I would think not, but you never know - this stuff can get complicated.

The same sort of thing could happen with context sensitive ads. We as the webmaster only tell Google et al. that we want to run an ad. They decide what specific ad will appear. So if I write an article about a Cisco router and they run an ad for Cisco, is that a financial interest that needs disclosure? Note that the webmaster wouldn't even know that the Cisco ad ran!

Will we have to put "I get money from this ad" above every Google ad? Google doesn't like us to call attention to ads - you can't put "Click here!" and point at their ads, for example. Would an FTC mandated notice conflict with that? If so, Google would need to change their policies.

Well, we'll see. Possibly a notice like I use is enough. If it isn't, I'll deal with that when we have more information.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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