User:Smallbones/Questions on FTC rules

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The March 2013 FTC guideline to disclosure of online advertising
Purpose of this page

This page was a place for Wikipedians to discuss, organize and edit a petition to the Federal Trade Commission asking that it provide guidance to Wikipedia editors on how to comply with FTC rules on undisclosed advertising on the Internet, and in particular on the encyclopedia that "anybody can edit."

The petition has now been sent. The response may be given at

The FTC’s Revised Endorsement Guides: What People are Asking

You can still send your individual questions to

endorsements@ftc.gov

The basic FTC interpretations of their rules are at this FTC endorsement-guides video, and in more detail at FTC's dot com disclosures and FTC endorsement guides.

Petition[edit]

To: Division of Advertising Practices
Federal Trade Commission
Washington, D.C.

The undersigned Wikipedia editors request that the Federal Trade Commission clarify how the FTC's rules on Internet disclosures and endorsements apply to edits on Wikipedia by companies and the public-relations industry.

According to a 2013 survey by the Public Relations Society of America of 1,543 PR professionals, 34 percent said they had directly edited the Wikipedia article about their company or client.[1]

It is against Wikipedia's rules to advertise, market, or promote products or services, so an advertiser here must be hidden by definition. Readers assume that articles are written or crowd-sourced independently. Disclosure that meets FTC rules has to be clear and conspicuous, generally right next to the "triggering claim." This is impossible in Wikipedia articles.

In May 2012 the Higher Regional Court of Munich, Germany, citing the European Union's Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, ruled that it was misleading to Wikipedia's readers when the site's content is written by someone with a financial connection to the subject that is not disclosed in the article itself. Disclosure on talk pages was deemed insufficient because readers cannot be expected to track those down. We would like to know whether the FTC's regulations would produce a similar conclusion.

Questions[edit]

A. A pharmaceutical company adds essentially identical information to the Wikipedia article about one of its products as the information it distributes to medical professionals and consumers.

Questions:
  • To what extent does this violate FTC rules?
  • Would it make any difference if the connection were disclosed on the talk page? (Disclosure in the article itself is not possible under Wikipedia's rules.)
  • Would it make any difference if the company were to post its version of the article on the talk page and ask an unconnected editor to place it in the encyclopedia?
  • Would it make any difference if all the material in the article were independently sourced (e.g. to medical journals)?

B. A company makes negative edits to articles about its competitors, without disclosure.

Questions:
  • Does this violate FTC rules?
  • Would it make any difference if the connection were disclosed on the talk page?

C. A restaurant owner posts a Wikipedia article about her restaurant containing referenced and unreferenced material, including an unreferenced mention of "delicious apple pie." The owner discloses her association on the article's talk page.

Questions:
  • Does this violate FTC rules?
  • Would it make any difference if the restaurant owner (or employee/contractor) attempted to write an unbiased article about the restaurant? (For example, a hired search engine optimization (SEO) firm might want to push a different website lower in a Google search?)
  • Would it make any difference if the article were about a non-profit organization rather than a for-profit business?

D. A company edits an article about itself without disclosure, but does not pitch its products or services. Rather it extols the company's public service spirit, and its environmental record, in "corporate image advertising".

Questions:
  • Does this violate FTC rules?
  • Would it make any difference if the connection were disclosed on the talk page?

E. A company's public relations firm does not add text to an article, but removes text others have written, either with disclosure on the article's talk page, or with no disclosure.

Questions:
  • Does this violate FTC rules?
  • Would it make any difference if the PR firm didn't add or remove significant amounts material, but instead "spun" the same material to make it sound better for the company?

We look forward to a public reply.

If you have any questions about this request you may post them at
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Smallbones/Questions_on_FTC_rules

Sincerely,

(Signed)[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ DiStaso, Marcia W. DiStaso (2013). "Perceptions of Wikipedia by Public Relations Professionals: A Comparison of 2012 and 2013 Surveys". Public Relations Journal 7 (3): p. 12. 

Other questions considered[edit]

Because of space limitations, the following will not be included in the petition, but you may ask the FTC these or other questions directly by sending them an e-mail at endorsements@ftc.gov

F. An OTC drug company has "discovered a new disease" and researched the effect of one of its products on the disease. The company's research on this new disease has not been published in a medical journal, but was reported on in a large metropolitan newspaper which cited the company's research report. A company researcher writes and posts a Wikipedia article, citing the newspaper report but not mentioning his connection with the company or the fact that the research was funded by the company.

G. A small Canadian tennis shoe manufacturer writes and posts an article on his company and products. About half his customers are Canadians and half Americans. He does not disclose his connection on the talk page.

Questions:
  • Would this violate FTC rules, even though the manufacturer/author was located in Canada?
  • Would it make any difference if the manufacturer were located in India and had no American customers? Wikipedia's servers are in the United States.

What now?[edit]

  • The petition was sent on Friday, February 7, 2014.
  • An automated response indicated that a more complete response may appear at this page
  • Any comments you wish to make are still welcome on the talk page, but please do not change the text on this page.
  • Please remember that you can send individual questions to:
endorsements@ftc.gov