South Korea clamps down on pay-for-praise bloggers

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Officials of South Korea’s fair trade watchdog said they were intervening in the practice of influential bloggers who get rewards from companies in return for favourable reviews of products.

The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) this week amended regulations so that companies and bloggers must reveal whether payments or gifts are exchanged in return for good reviews.

If this is not done, the companies and bloggers could face fines. The rules will also apply to users of Twitter and Facebook.

“This measure is aimed at curbing ‘power bloggers’ who deceive consumers by concealing their links with companies and write favourable product reviews and organise group purchases”, Kim Jeong-Kee, an FTC director was quoted as saying.

The so-called power bloggers wield growing influence, but some promote products in return for commissions or freebies. In highly wired South Korea, a world leader in internet connectivity and speed, this is a serious problem.

In a case that sparked public anger this month, a renowned power-blogging housewife reportedly received US$190,000 from a company in exchange for helping it sell kitchenware that carried a government standards agency warning.

“Internet users feel betrayed by corrupt power bloggers who make money by colluding with businesses”, a commentator in Kookmin Ilbo newspaper wrote last week.

Some bloggers and advertisers, however, expressed concern that the FTC’s new initiative went too far, the Korea JoongAng Daily said.

“My question is, how will the FTC restrict all bloggers that are out there in cyberspace”, Kim Seon-Jin, a blogger who often reviews cosmetics products was quoted as saying.

“There are just too many for the FTC to keep track of. There are hundreds of thousands of blogs, with new ones being created every day”, she said.

This move is in line with a growing trend to clamp down on online paid-for product endorsements by regulatory bodies across the world.

As was reported in the Guardian earlier this year, the UK’s Office of Fair Trading began “a crackdown on Twitter users and bloggers using their online presence to endorse products and companies without clearly stating their relationship with the brand”. As the OFT put it, not disclosing that “any form of online advertising” is not paid for is deceptive.

In the US, the Federal Trade Commission has had rules banning the practice of non-disclosure of paid product reviews since 2009 — be it via blog, Facebook post or tweet. — AFP with additional reporting by Staff Reporter

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