FTC To Hold May Workshop On Updates to Dotcom Disclosure Guidelines

FTC Will Host Public Workshop to Explore Advertising Disclosures in Online and Mobile Media on May 30, 2012

Below are the FTC Announcement on the workshop (Part One), its 2011 request for comments on updating the guidelines (Part Two) and links to comments submitted (Part Three)

PART ONE:  The Federal Trade Commission will host a day-long public workshop to consider the need for new guidance for online advertisers about making disclosures required under FTC law. The guidance will address technological advancements and marketing developments that have emerged since the FTC first issued its online advertising disclosure guidelines known as “Dot Com Disclosures” 12 years ago.

The workshop, to be held on May 30, will cover revising the Dot Com Disclosures so they illustrate how to provide clear and conspicuous disclosures in the current online and mobile advertising environment. Any revisions will be consistent with the goals of the original guidelines and will continue to emphasize that consumer protection laws apply equally to online and mobile marketers, and to other media. The FTC began seeking input for revising the Dot Com Disclosures guidelines last year.

Topics may include:

  • How can effective disclosures be made on social media platforms and mobile devices – including when they are used in commercial texting – that limit the space available for disclosure?  For example, when consumers are paid or receive other benefits for providing an endorsement, how can they effectively disclose on platforms that allow only short messages or a simple sign of approval?
  • When can disclosures provided separately from an initial advertisement be considered adequate?  For example, if a consumer receives a location-based ad for a discounted cup of coffee on her mobile device because she is near a particular coffee shop, what terms must be disclosed in the mobile ad and what terms, if any, do not have to be disclosed until the consumer enters the coffee shop to make her purchase?
  • What are the options when using devices that do not allow downloading or printing the terms of an agreement?  For example, is providing consumers a means to send a copy of the agreement to themselves to read later an effective way to provide this information?
  • How can disclosures that are made in the original advertisement be retained when the advertisement is aggregated (for example, on dashboards) or re-transmitted (through, for example, re-tweeting)?
  • What are the disclosure opportunities and limitations of hyperlinks, jump links, hashtags, click-throughs, layered disclosures, icons, and other similar options?  How should these options be evaluated in terms of placement and proximity?
  • How can short, effective, and accessible privacy disclosures be made on mobile devices?
  • What does the research show about how consumers’ use of mobile and other devices can affect the effectiveness of disclosures on particular devices or platforms?  And what does it show about the relationship between how consumers use mobile devices and their understanding of disclosures and advertising displayed on mobile devices?  What does the research show about how consumers make decisions based on that information?  Is there specific research on the effectiveness of disclosures on mobile devices, including layered disclosures and icons, and, if so, what are the implications of that research for disclosures such as offer terms and privacy practices?

The Commission also invites parties to submit suggestions for topics of discussion or original research.  In particular, the Commission invites the submission of realistic examples and mock-ups that can be used for illustration and discussion at the workshop. Individuals and organizations may submit requests to participate as panelists and may recommend topics for inclusion on the agenda.  The requests and recommendations should be submitted electronically to dotcomdisclosuresworkshop@ftc.gov. Prospective panelists should submit a statement detailing their expertise on the issues to be addressed and contact information no later than March 30, 2012. Panelists will be selected based on expertise and the need to include a broad range of views.

Paper submissions should reference the Dot Com Disclosures Workshop both in the text and on the envelope, and should be mailed or delivered to: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, Room H-135 (Annex P), 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580.  The FTC requests that any paper submissions be sent by courier or overnight service, if possible, because postal mail in the Washington area and at the Commission is subject to delay due to heightened security precautions. The workshop is free and open to the public.  It will be held on Wednesday, May 30, 2012, at the FTC Conference Center at 601 New Jersey Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC.  Pre-registration is not required.  Members of the public and press who wish to participate but who cannot attend can view a live Webcast at FTC.gov.

Reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities are available upon request. Requests should be submitted via e-mail to cmcglothlin@ftc.gov or by calling Carrie McGlothlin at 202-326-3388. Requests should be made in advance. Please include a detailed description of the accommodation needed, and provide contact information.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them.  To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).  The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.  The FTC=s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

PART TWO

For Release: 05/26/2011

FTC Seeks Input for Revising Its Guidance to Businesses About Disclosures in Online Advertising

Needed Revisions Will Reflect Dramatic Changes in Online World Since Guidance Was Issued 11 Years Ago

FTC Staff Invites Comments Regarding “Dot Com Disclosure” Business Guidance Publication


In May 2000, the FTC staff issued a business guidance document, “Dot Com Disclosures: Information about Online Advertising,” examining how the general principles of advertising law enforced by the Commission applied to advertising and sales on the Internet.  The primary focus of the 2000 publication was to counsel marketers on how to provide clear and conspicuous disclosures of information that consumers needed in order to make informed decisions about goods and services being offered on the Internet.

Specifically, “Dot Com Disclosures” advised online advertisers that the same consumer protection laws that apply to commercial activities in other media apply online, and that any disclosures required to prevent an advertisement from being misleading must be clear and conspicuous. It focused on how required disclosures may be presented clearly and conspicuously in online advertisements, and provided key considerations for evaluating their effectiveness. The business guide discussed, in the context of online advertisements, the traditional factors used to evaluate whether disclosures are likely to be clear and conspicuous, including: the placement of the disclosure in an advertisement and its proximity to the relevant
claim; the prominence of the disclosure; whether items in other parts of the advertisement
distract attention from the disclosure; whether the advertisement is so lengthy that the disclosure
needs to be repeated; whether disclosures in audio messages are presented in an adequate
volume and cadence, and visual disclosures appear for a sufficient duration; and, whether the
language of the disclosure is understandable to the intended audience. The document’s appendix
contained mock advertisements that illustrated these particular factors.

The 2000 publication also addressed specific issues that arise from application of certain Commission rules and guides to Internet activities and the use of what were then new technologies to comply with those rules and guides. For example, some rules and guides use certain terms – such as “written,” “writing,” and “printed” – that connote words or information on paper. The document explained that those rules and guides that apply to written advertisements or printed materials also apply to visual text displayed on the Internet. In
addition, the staff’s guidance document discussed the circumstances in which businesses may
use email to comply with a Commission rule or guide requirement to provide or send required
notices or documents to consumers.

The online world has changed dramatically since “Dot Com Disclosures” was first issued. Eleven years ago, mobile marketing was just a vision, there was not an “App” economy, the use of “pop-up blockers” was not widespread, and online social networking was nowhere as sophisticated or extensive as it is today.
Accordingly, the staff is considering updating and reissuing “Dot Com Disclosures” in order to provide guidance to businesses about how FTC law applies to current online activities.

Although the Commission has gained substantial experience over the past decade with how
online advertisers make claims and disclosures, the staff welcomes all comments on the 2000
publication and the issues it addresses, and has also identified the following questions on which
it has a particular interest in obtaining the public’s views:

  1. What issues have been raised by online technologies or Internet activities or features that have emerged since the business guide was issued (e.g., mobile marketing, including screen size) that should be addressed in a revised guidance document?
  2. What issues raised by new technologies or Internet activities or features on the horizon should be addressed in a revised business guide?
  3. What issues raised by new laws or regulations should be addressed in a revised guidance document?
  4. What research or other information regarding the online marketplace, online advertising techniques, or consumer online behavior should the staff consider in revising “Dot Com Disclosures”?
  5. What research or other information regarding the effectiveness of disclosures – and, in particular, online disclosures – should the staff consider in revising “Dot Com Disclosures”?
  6. What specific types of online disclosures, if any, raise unique issues that should be considered separately from general disclosure requirements?
  7. What guidance in the original “Dot Com Disclosures” document is outdated or unnecessary?
  8. What guidance in “Dot Com Disclosures” should be clarified, expanded, strengthened, or limited?
  9. What issues relating to disclosures have arisen from such multi-party selling arrangements in Internet commerce as (1) established online sellers providing a platform for other firms to market and sell their products online, (2) website operators being compensated for referring consumers to other Internet sites that offer products and services, and (3) other affiliate marketing arrangements?
  10. What additional issues or principles relating to online advertising should be addressed in the business guidance document?
  11. What other changes, if any, should be made to “Dot Com Disclosures”?

PART THREE:  Public Comments