At the end of August, the California passed an amendment to the California Online Privacy Protection Act that will require commercial websites and services that collect personal data to disclose how they respond to Do Not Track signals from Web browsers.
AB 370, as introduced by California Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, requires a business that discloses a customer’s personal information to a third party for direct marketing purposes to provide the customer, within 30 days after the customer’s request, as specified, in writing or by e-mail the names and addresses of the recipients of that information and specified details regarding the information disclosed.
This bill, available here, would declare the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would regulate online behavioral tracking of consumers.
WHAT: From film to fashion, creative industries are taking steps to protect and promote original work. Designers and manufacturers need to know what steps they can take to protect their designs, their businesses, and their profits. The discussion will address issues related to how to protect original design (copyright & design patent) and the manufacturers (trademark, unfair competition).
I’m surprised at how often I receive commercial bulk email messages that are not compliant with the Federal CAN SPAM act.The two biggest mistakes I see are 1) no physical address and 2) no opt-out/unsubscribe mechanism.
Another common mistake is a “blind” bulk email address list like “Undisclosed-Recipients@email.com.” Not only do I NOT know which address this received the offensive message, there usually isn’t even a proper return address for me to send an “Unsubscribe” message.
With the popularity of social media, you’ve probably received a Twitter promotion for iPhones, special deals, free downloads, etc. While it’s easy to dismiss poorly-written tweets from obvious spammers, when someone replies to you on Twitter, says “must read, check it out” and the topic is clearly the kind of thing you read and share it’s more difficult to tell. Often, these are from legitimate accounts where a human has taken the time to compose and send the message.
In light of the growing use of electronic mail (“email”) messages for advertising, marketing, corporate communications and customer service, is essential to have some familiarity with the Federal “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003” also known as the CAN SPAM Act (the “Act”) The Act provides the parameters of its application, explicit prohibitions, requirements for transmission of legally compliant email messages including the “Opt-Out” mechanism and vicarious liability. Generally speaking, the Act was written to prohibit the fraudulent, deceptive, predatoryand abusive practices that threaten to undermine the success and effectiveness of commercial email and email marketing.
Congress drafted the Act to impose limitations and penalties on the transmission of unsolicited commercial email messages. Unlike some state initiatives, the Act is an “opt-out” law. Put another way, for most purposes permission of the e-mail recipient is not required. However, once an email recipient has indicated a desire to opt-out or no longer receive such messages, failure to comply with the recipient’s request may subject both the sender and the person or entity on whose behalf the message was sent to severe penalties.
Frequently asked question about the Act include:
1) To Whom Does The Act Apply? The Act applies to any person or entity that sends email.
2) What Activities Are Prohibited By The Act? The Act is primarily concerned with explicitly prohibiting certain predatory and abusive commercial email practices.
3) What Are The Requirements For Sending Email Messages? Section 5(a) of the Act sets requires the inclusion non-misleading information regarding: (a) transmission, (b) subject, (c) email address, (d) Opt-out and physical address, and (e) clear and conspicuous language identifying sexually-oriented messages.
4) Who Can Be Liable for Violations? The Act applies to both the party actually sending the commercial email messages and those who procure their services.
The primary substantive provisions of the Act can be divided into three parts found in Section 4, Section 5 and Section 6. Section 4 of the Act addresses “predatory and abusive” practices prohibited by the Act. Section 5 details the requirements for transmission of messages that comply with the Act. Section 6 details the requirements for transmission and identification of sexually-oriented messages. Section 6 is not discussed in this article.
Section 4 of the Act lists specific “predatory and abusive” practices prohibited by the Act. In short, the Act specifically prohibits: (i) accessing a computer without authorization for the purpose of initiating transmission of multiple commercial email messages, (ii) transmission of multiple commercial email messages with the intent to deceive or mislead recipients, (iii) transmission of multiple commercial email messages with materially false header information, (iv) registration of email accounts or domain names using information that materially falsifies the identity of the actual registrant, and (v) false representations regarding the registration of Internet Protocol addresses used to initiate multiple commercial email messages.
The second relevant part, set forth in Section 5 of the Act, details the requirements for transmission of messages that comply with the Act. Subject to certain limitations discussed below, the Act requires that email messages contain: (i) transmission information that is not materially false or misleading, (ii) subject information that is not materially false or misleading, (iii) a return address or comparable mechanism for opt-out purposes, (iv) identifier, Opt-out and physical address, and (v) clear and conspicuous language identifying sexually-oriented messages as such. (Note, this last requirement is not discussed. See above.) Lastly, the Act implicates both commercial email transmission service providers as well as those who procure their services.
To Whom Does The Act Apply?
The Act applies to any person or entity that sends email. The Act specifically regulates “commercial electronic mail messages,” defined as any email message “the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service (including content on an Internet website operated for a commercial purpose).” However, the Act specifically excludes from this definition “transactional or relationship messages.” A “transactional or relationship message” falls within one of five categories of messages:
communications that facilitate, complete or confirm a commercial transaction previously agreed to by the recipient;
communications that provide warranty or other product information with respect to a product or service previously used or purchased by the recipient;
notifications with respect to a subscription, membership, account, loan, or comparable ongoing commercial relationship;
information directly related to an employment relationship or related benefit plan in which the recipient is currently involved; and
communications to deliver goods or services, including product updates or upgrades, under the terms of a transaction previously agreed to by the recipient.(Emphasis added.)
The purpose for the distinction between “commercial electronic mail messages” and “transactional or relationship messages” is to exempt certain types of communications from compliance with all the message transmission requirements of the Act. As should be clear from the list above, the Act distinguishes the types of communications based on the relationship between the sender and recipient rather than on the character of the message. Put another way, so long as the communication is related to some type of existing business relationship, it is not a “commercial electronic mail message.”
What Activities Are Prohibited By The Act?
Section 4 of the Act is primarily concerned with prohibiting certain predatory and abusive commercial email practices. Section 4(a) amends Chapter 47 of Title 18 of the United States Code by adding Section 1037 which specifies the offenses that constitute “fraud and related activity in connection with email.” An offense is committed by anyone who directly or indirectly, knowingly:
accesses a protected computer without authorization, and intentionally initiates the transmission of multiple commercial electronic mail messages from or through such computer,
uses a protected computer to relay or retransmit multiple commercial electronic mail messages, with the intent to deceive or mislead recipients, or any Internet access service, as to the origin of such messages,
materially falsifies header information in multiple commercial electronic mail messages and intentionally initiates the transmission of such messages,
registers, using information that materially falsifies the identity of the actual registrant, for five or more electronic mail accounts or online user accounts or two or more domain names, and intentionally initiates the transmission of multiple commercial electronic mail messages from any combination of such accounts or domain names, or
falsely represents oneself to be the registrant or the legitimate successor in interest to the registrant of 5 or more Internet Protocol addresses, and intentionally initiates the transmission of multiple commercial electronic mail messages from such addresses.
Clearly, Section 4 is primarily concerned with preventing practices whereby the sender intentionally, either through outright fraud or other deception, conceals its true identity or the true commercial character of the message.
What Are The Requirements For Sending Email Messages?
Section 5(a) of the Act sets forth certain other protections for the users of commercial email.
Accurate Transmission Information. Among the affirmative requirements of Section 5(a), Section 5(a)(1) prohibits sending either a commercial electronic mail message, or a transactional or relationship message, that contains, or is accompanied by, header information that is materially false or materially misleading. Unlike the general prohibition against sending messages with materially false header information under Section 4, in addition to having technically accurate transmission information, the sender is prohibited from having used false pretense or other deceptive means to acquire such information (e.g. email accounts, domain names and IP addresses). Furthermore, the “from” line must “accurately identify the person transmitting the message.” Lastly, the sender must accurately identify the computers used to originate, relay or retransmit the message.
Note, the following only apply to commercial electronic mail messages:
Accurate Subject Information. Messages must have accurate subject information. Subject information would not be accurate if a “person has actual knowledge, or knowledge fairly implied on the basis of objective circumstances, that a subject heading of the message would be likely to mislead a recipient, acting reasonably under the circumstances, about a material fact regarding the contents or subject matter of the message.”
Inclusion of Opt-out Mechanism. Messages MUST contain a functioning return email address or other Internet-based mechanism (e.g. hyperlink), that is clearly and conspicuously displayed that enables a recipient to submit a request to opt-out of future email messages from the sender whose email address was contained in the message. The opt-out mechanism (whether email address or hyperlink, etc.) must remain functional for at least thirty (30) days after the transmission of the original message.
Removal After Objection. If a recipient makes a request using the opt-out mechanism, the sender shall not transmit any further messages to the recipient, more than ten (10) business days after the receipt of such request, if such message would fall within the scope of the request. A third-party acting on behalf of the sender shall not transmit or assist others to transmit, any further messages to the recipient, more than ten (10) business days after the receipt of such request, if such third party knows or should know of the recipient’s objection. Lastly, the sender and any third party who knows that the recipient has made such a request, shall not sell, lease, exchange, or otherwise transfer or release the electronic mail address of the recipient for any purpose other than compliance with the Act or other provision of law.
Inclusion of Identifier, Opt-out & Physical Address. Every message must clearly and conspicuously: (i) identify the message as an advertisement or solicitation; (ii) provide notice of the opportunity to opt-out of future communications; and (iii) provide a valid physical postal address of the sender. However, the notice that a message is an advertisement or solicitation does not apply where the recipient has given prior affirmative consent to receive the message.
Related Activities Proscribed.
Other prohibitions in the Act concern unethical or unscrupulous practices that tend to coincide with deceptive or abusive email. Several common methods for generating email distribution lists have also been proscribed. The Act prohibits certain unethical practices such as:
hijacking another email server to send or relay messages;
“harvesting” email addresses that appear on others’ Web sites;
randomly generating email addresses;
knowingly linking an email ad to a fraudulently registered domain; and
participating in other offenses such as fraud, identity theft, etc.
Who Can Be Liable for Violations?
The Act applies to both the party actually sending the commercial email messages and those who procure their services. One cannot “outsource” its “spam” and thereby avoid liability under the Act. One may be held accountable if the email service employed isn’t actually using a legally-compiled or permission-based list. Under some parts of the Act one may be held liable for employing a third party to distribute the messages “with actual knowledge, or by consciously avoiding knowing, whether such [third party] is engaging or will engage, in a pattern or practice that violates this Act.”
The Act was written to prohibit the fraudulent, deceptive, predatory and abusive practices that threaten to undermine the success and effectiveness of commercial email and email marketing. Since Bacon’s uses email to communicate with employees, vendors, existing and prospective customers, Bacon’s is clearly subject to the Act. The Act focuses on enumerating proscribed activities rather than affirmative obligations to make it easier for legitimate, honest businesses to comply with the Act. The Act distinguishes communications based on a previously existing relationship between the sender and the recipient from those communications that are prospective in nature. Generally, email messages not based on a pre-existing relationship are subject to greater affirmative requirements.
Be Aware of the Requirements for Transmitting Messages.
The Future Of Social Is Moving From Mere Participation To Analysis & Strategic Initiatives
I had the opportunity to attend and participate in Converge 2012 run by the Institute for Social, Search & Mobile Marketing. The theme was mastering the Business of Social Media. The Conference had a great selection of speakers (yours truly included) and topics that really resonated with the audience. I hope to summarize here some of the take-aways I learned at this conference.
Business Is Now Social
The last few years have seen an unprecedented shift in the adoption of social platforms for businesses to reach and interact with customers. What started as a “dipping our toes into the water” excerise has now matured into jumping in with both feet. Not surprisingly, the first few presentations of the conference focused on the effect of so much participation: greater focus on ROI. The presentations covered a lot of ground, but here are the key take aways from Day 1:
Businesses that fail to integrate the social channels may not exist in five years
Analytics are maturing in terms of both measurement tools and metrics
Better analytics are driving innovation by putting companies ahead of emerging issues instead of simply reacting to them
Creating a Social Media culture must come from the top and flow down
The growth of mobile platforms Is blurring the line between online and in-store experiences because of anywhere/anytime andpersonalized access
Day 1 concluded with the panel presentation in which I participated “Social Media “Venture Heaven” Money is flooding into social media, It’s time to understand why.” Key take-aways from this panel include the followig Data about the growth in Mobile:
As of May, 2012, mobile comprises 10% of Internet traffic, up from just 4% less than a year and a half ago
Mobile = ~8% of ecommerce
Monetization growing rapidly 79% is Apps, 21% is from ads
There has been a rapid increase in time spent relative money spent on ads; TV is roughly at parity while Mobile ad spend is about 1/10 of that
Drivers of growth in Mobile:
Improved user interfaces
More emphasis on design aestheticS
In a world of ubiquitous fast Internet, mass blogging and micro-blogging, minute-by-minute status updates and customer complaints and recommendations, businesses need to focus on tailoring their product for their customers desires, rather that merely tolerating customer requests. Whatever device/platform customers use most will get the most attention from developers, accessory makers and potential new customers.
By Talya Minsberg A new Israeli law prohibits fashion media and advertising from using Photoshop or models who fall below the World Health Organization’s standard for malnutrition. When a 14-year-old girl delivered a 25,000-signature petition this week to Seventeen asking them to curb their use of Photoshop, the magazine issued a press statement that congratulated the girl on her ambition but was conspicuously silent on changing their editorial practices.
So, culturally and historically, the reason women care so much about fashion is that until very recently, we weren’t allowed professional, legal or vocal ways of expressing ourselves. Fashion was a way of articulating our feelings about ourselves.
As our lives have become more digitally enmeshed with content, immersive entertainment and devices, the economic bargain that makes it possible has gone largely unnoticed. Simply put, the collection, analysis and sharing of personal data is driving the digital economy. Mobile applications (Apps), digital content and entertainment – from TV shows to games – are available for “free” but subsidized by income from online ads that are customized using data about customers. Vendors, advertisers and platforms compete for “eyeballs” based, in part, on the quality of the information they possess about users to whom the ads are targeted.
Across this interconnected landscape of users, content providers and devices, the issue of online privacy has become a major talking point for app developers, marketers, consumers and legislators. Recently, a wide range of stakeholders, from large institutions to smaller developers, have been accused of mishandling personal data. As the volume of public debate has increased, legislators have introduced a raft privacy initiatives. The Obama administration has called for a Privacy Bill of Rights, an industry consortium of leading web sites and search engines has proposed its own privacy best practices and the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a consumer-oriented Mobile User Privacy Bill of Rights.
Part 1 of this article looks at several recent and high-profile revelations about how personal information is collected and used, often without the user’s knowledge and consent. Part 2 discusses the legal risks faced by vendors that don’t take adequate precautions to protect consumer privacy and Part 3 concludes with strategies and tactics that help leverage the power of personalization while avoiding the pitfalls of privacy and data security.
1. The current state of information gathering
The scope of personal information gathered is unprecedented and largely unknown. For years, “free” web-based content has been available because of the implicit compromise between content providers and content consumers. Advances in technology have made it easier to track a user’s web browsing habits, mobile browsing habits, and even real-time geospatial location (check in apps and GPS). In the last few months, we have learned that some apps not only gather this mostly non-personally-identifiable data, but also upload a user’s address book contacts and even photos.
On Wednesday Feb. 2012, software Developer Arun Thampi “outed” Path, the purveyor of a self-titled journaling app, for sending users’ address book contents to the company. Path lets users share what they’re doing with a select group of friends and gives users the option to find friends on the app through contacts or other social networks. Thampi disclosed the clandestine data transfer in a blog post after discovering that his phone’s entire address book, including full names and e-mail addresses, was being sent to Path without his explicit consent. According to Path, this data was necessary to in order to quickly notify users when people they know join Path.
Not too long ago, Google earned itself a similar PR (and legal) black eye when it launched its social network, Google Buzz, in 2010 through its Gmail web-based email product. At launch, users were not informed that the identity of individuals they emailed most frequently would be made public by default. Google Buzz automatically disclosed the email addresses of a user’s contacts by default. Google settled with the FTC over allegations that Google used deceptive practices and violated its own privacy policies.
On Feb 17 2012, WSJ reported that Google Inc. and other advertising companies have been bypassing the privacy settings of millions of people using Apple Inc.’s Web browser on their iPhones and computers—tracking the Web-browsing habits of people who intended for that kind of monitoring to be blocked. The companies used special computer code that tricks Apple’s Safari Web-browsing software into letting them monitor many users. Safari, the most widely used browser on mobile devices, is designed to block such tracking by default.
A major topic for discussion just this week is the “Target Snafu.” As originally reported in the New York Times, Target used customer data and predictive analytics to determine that one of their customers was pregnant, and even her specific trimester. The girl’s father learned of the pregnancy when the retailer emailed her promotional material and coupons.
It used to take days or even weeks to gather, synthesize and extrapolate data about a customer’s buying habits and receptiveness to particular products or services. Now it takes milliseconds. A targeted ad can be sourced and served in the time it takes to hit “refresh” on a web browser. Companies are using massive amounts of data to predict what their customers are going to want next. More importantly, gathering that data is getting easier, cheaper and more ubiquitous as the source of that data moves from the desktop to mobile devices.
For the past year and a half, I have been traveling to various conferences around the country to speak on Legal and Regulatory compliance in social media. In the beginning, case law and regulatory guidance was scarce and little information was available to provide businesses engaged in social media with a roadmap for Social Media Legal and Regulatory compliance. However, a lot has changed over the last year and a clear trend is emerging. Industry regulators are aware of the use – and abuse – of social media by their members. This article examines recent guidance provided by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC).
The settlement, first announced in June 2010, resolved charges that Twitter deceived consumers and put their privacy at risk by failing to safeguard their personal information. Lapses in the Twitter’s data security allowed hackers to obtain unauthorized administrative control of Twitter, including both access to non-public user information and tweets that consumers had designated as private, and the ability to send out phony tweets from any account. Under the terms of the settlement, Twitter has hit ended and ongoing obligations concerning consumers and the extent to which it protects the security, privacy, and confidentiality of nonpublic consumer information, including the measures it takes to prevent unauthorized access to nonpublic information and honor the privacy choices made by consumers.
In a similar action, the FTC settled and investigation into Facebook,the leading social media platform/service. The social networking service agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public. The settlement requires Facebook to take several steps to make sure it lives up to its promises in the future, including giving consumers clear and prominent notice and obtaining consumers’ express consent before their information is shared beyond the privacy settings they have established.
As recently as January 10, 2012, the FTC reached a settlement with UPromise, Inc., stemming from charges that the company – a membership reward service – allegedly used a web-browser toolbar to collect consumers’ personal information, without adequately disclosing the extent of personal information collected. The FTC found that the toolbar was collecting the names of all websites visited by its users as well as information entered into web pages by those users, including user names, passwords, credit card numbers, social security numbers and other financial and/or sensitive data. Furthermore, this data was transmitted in unencrypted, clear text that could be intercepted or viewed by third parties in a WiFi environment. The result? UPromise had to destroy all data it collected under the “Personalized Offers” feature of its “TurboSaver” toolbar in addition to other obligations related to data collection practices and consent to collection of personal information.
Other Industry Guidance.
In October 2009, the Federal Trade Commission released it’s updated “FTC’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” The updated Guides contain two notable areas of concern for marketers. First, the Guides removed the safe harbor for advertisements featuring a consumer’s experience with a product or service, the so-called “results not typical” disclosure. Second, the FTC Guides underscored the longstanding principle of disclosing “material connections” between advertisers and the consumers, experts, organizations, and celebrities providing reviews and endorsements of products and services.
For concise guidance on when, how and what to disclose, see my article here.
Social Media in the Healthcare & Pharmaceutical Industries.
Like other consumer-oriented industries, Pharmaceutical and Biotech firms are rapidly expanding their presence online. This growth over the past several years has not gone unnoticed as evidenced by FDA Warning Letters targeting marketing campaigns “broadcast” via websites and social media platforms. The FDA also provides more general guidance for the industry. Policy and guidance development for promotion of FDA-regulated medical products using the Internet and social media tools are available in the FDA’s Consumer-Directed Broadcast Advertisements Questions and Answers. While this document provides clear direction for traditional media broadcasting , it only skims the surface regarding web content.
Social Media in the Workplace.
Probably no other federal agency has been as active as the NLRB in recent months. The NLRB has a mandate to protect employees rights to organize and discuss working conditions without fear of reprisals from employers. On August 8, 2011, the Associate General Counsel for the NLRB released a memo entitled “Report of the Acting General Counsel Concerning Social Media Cases.The report began by analyzing a case of first impression: whether an Employer unlawfully discharged five employees who had posted comments on Facebook relating to allegations of poor job performance previously expressed by one of their coworkers.
On January 25, 2012, the NLRB released a second report describing social media cases handled by the NLRB. The “Operations Management Memo” available here, covers 14 cases, half of which involve questions about employer social media policies. Five of those policies were found to be unlawfully broad, one was lawful, and one was found to be lawful after it was revised.
The remaining cases involved discharges of employees after they posted comments to Facebook. Several discharges were found to be unlawful because they flowed from unlawful policies. But in one case, the discharge was upheld despite an unlawful policy because the employee’s posting was not work-related. The report underscores two main points made in an earlier compilation of cases: 1) policies should not sweep so broadly that they prohibit the kinds of activity protected by federal labor law, such as the discussion of wages or working conditions among employees; and 2) an employee’s comments on social media are generally not protected if they are mere gripes not made in relation to group activity among employees.
Social Media and the Financial Services Industry.
From the Madoff scandal, to the Occupy Wall Street Movement, to Mitt Romney’s tax returns, the financial services sector is accustomed to the scrutiny and ire of the public and government regulators. Therefore it is no surprise that on January 4, 2012, the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, in coordination with other SEC staff, including in the Division of Enforcement’s Asset Management Unit and the Division of Investment Management, issued its “Investment Adviser Use of Social Media” paper. The paper begins by observing that although “many firms have policies and procedures within their compliance programs” governing use of social media” there is wide “variation in the form and substance of the policies and procedures.” The staff noted that many firms have multiple overlapping procedures that apply to advertisements, client communications or electronic communications generally, which may or may not specifically include social media use. Such lack of specificity may cause confusion as to what procedures or standards apply to social media use.
The SEC paper suggests that the following factors are relevant to determining the effectiveness of a Social Media compliance program:
Frequency of Monitoring
Approval of Content
Criteria for Approving Participation
Functionality of web sites and updates thereto
Enterprise-wide web site content cross collateralization
Similarly, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has issued guidance for secutires brokerage firms. According to its web site, FINRA “is the largest independent regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States.” FINRA protects American investors by ensuring fairness and honesty in the securities industry. In January 2010, FINRA issued Regulatory Notice 10-06, providing guidance on the application of FINRA rules governing communications with the public to social media sites and reminding firms of the recordkeeping, suitability, supervision and content requirements for such communications. Since its publication, firms have raised additional questions regarding the application of the rules. Key take aways from FINRA’s guidance include the flowing:
Brokerages have supervisory and record keeping obligations based on the content of the communications – whether it is business related – and not the media
Broker-dealers must track and supervise messages that deal with business
Firms must have systems in place to supervise and retain interactions with customers, if they are made through personal mobile devices
A broker must get approval from the firm if she mentions her employer on a social media site
Pre-approval for instant messages, also known as “unscripted interactions’ in legalese, is not necessary as long as supervisors are informed after the fact
Many professionals in regulated industries are eager to leverage social media to market and communicate with existing and prospective clients and to increase their visibility. However, participants must ensure compliance with all of the regulatory requirements and awareness of the risks associated with using various forms of social media. Hopefully, the guidance outlined above can serve as a good starting point for discussions about how best to use of social media as well as suggestions regarding factors that firms may wish to consider is helpful to firms in strengthening their compliance and risk management programs. We invite you to contact us with comments and requests about how we can help you educate your employees, prevent fraud, monitor risk, and promote compliance. We can be reached at lsglegal.com, 866-734-256, @adlerlaw and firstname.lastname@example.org.
The updated FTC Guides contain two notable areas of concern for marketers. First, the Guides removed the safe harbor for advertisements featuring a consumer’s experience with a product or service, the so-called “results not typical” disclosure. Second, the FTC Guides underscored the longstanding principle of disclosing “material connections” between advertisers and the consumers, experts, organizations, and celebrities providing reviews and endorsements of products and services.
If you write a review or blog post and your post contains only your own opinions, you haven’t received any compensation for the review or post, and you otherwise have no material connection to the topic of your post, you have nothing to disclose.
2. Free Sample/Free Gift
If you have been given a free copy, sample, or gift of a product or service and you write a review or blog post, you must disclose the facts and circumstances of how you received the item or service, even if you have not been paid to review or post on that topic. You do not run afoul of the disclosure rules if you receive payment unrelated your content. This disclosure is useful to keep in mind when your content relates to product previews, reviews of samples, services, gifts, books, software, music, movies, etc.
3. Promotional Relationships
If you write a review or blog post and your post is based upon an advertising relationship, and you have received compensation (cash, free services, product samples for personal use or a gift) for the review or post, you must disclose the nature of the relationship, whether you received anything of value, and information about relationships with advertisers or endorsers that would have a material impact about how a prospective consumer would view the message. This disclosure is useful to keep in mind when your content relates to paid posts, sponsored messages, tweets, fan page postings, etc.
4. Employment Relationships
If you write a review or blog post and your post is based upon an employment relationship, e.g. you are an employee or shareholder of a related company, you have a “material business relationship” to disclose, even if you are not being directly compensated for the message. You may post on behalf of a business or brand. In fact, it may even be part of your job description. Again, be mindful of the requirement to disclose any “connections” that may have influenced you, including both direct and indirect relationships.
5. Affiliate Relationships
If you write a review or blog post and your post is based upon an affiliate relationship, e.g., you have included affiliate links on your page, you must disclose the fact that the relationship exists and that you will be paid for referrals from your page.
6. Healthcare Disclosures
If you write a review or blog post and your content is based upon a connection to a pharmaceutical or healthcare product or program, you need to include relevant healthcare-related disclosures or information safety warnings, side effects, or official links with information.
7. Financial Guidelines & Disclosures
If you write a review or blog post and you work for a financial services company, you may be making investor-relations communications and your communications are subject to regulation by the NASD, SEC, FINRA and potentially state and federal regulatory agencies. The FINRA Guidance on Blogs & Social Networking Sites” can be found here. Record Retention: ensure that you can retain records of those communications. Suitability: a particular communication a “recommendation” for purposes of NASD Rule 2310 and is it suitable for potential recipients. Public Appearances: determine whether your post part of an “interactive online forum” and whether supervision is required. Third-Party Posts: If your firm created or “sponsors” and online forum, be aware that, under certain circumstances, a customer’s or other third party’s content on a social media site may become attributable to the firm. Whether third-party content is attributable to a firm depends on whether the firm has (1) involved itself in the preparation of the content or (2) explicitly or implicitly endorsed or approved the content.
Clearly, legal and regulatory compliance for social media remains a minefield. Although this article is intended to give you a working knowledge of the types of risks created by, and disclosures required for, the use of Social Media, it is NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Each situation is unique and you should consult with qualified legal counsel regarding your specific circumstances.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David M. Adler, Esq. is an attorney, author, educator, entrepreneur and partner at the boutique intellectual property, entertainment & media law firm LEAVENS, STRAND, GLOVER & ADLER, LLC based in Chicago, Illinois. My responsibilities include providing advice to business units and executives on copyright, trademark, ecommerce, software/IT, media & entertainment and issues associated with creating and commercializing innovations and creative content, drafting and negotiating contracts and licenses, advising on securities laws and corporate governance and managing outside counsel. Learn more about me here: www.ecommerceattorney.com and here: Leavens Strand Glover & Adler, LLC.