Washington Watch: FTC on Blogger Guidelines; AT&T Net Neutrality Dispute

AT&T Folds on FaceTime

AT&T’s announcement that it would penalize users with unlimited data plans who use Apple’s FaceTime video-conferencing app by requiring that they purchase unlimited voice plans triggered swift condemnation. Matt Wood, policy director of Free Press, called this a clear violation of the FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules particularly as it is applied to iPad users since that device does not even have voice capability. Free Press joined two other public interest groups in providing statutory notice to AT&T of its intent to file a complaint with the FCC over this action and, in the process, urged AT&T to instead make the app available to all of its customers, “in compliance with the Open Internet rules that “preserve the Internet as an open platform enabling consumer choice, freedom of expression, end-user control, competition, and the freedom to innovate without permission.” AT&T has retreated but only partially on the issue. AT&T decided today to reverse its controversial decision blocking FaceTime calls over LTE data networks from customers who don’t subscribe to one of the carrier’s shared data plans by allowing FaceTime on devices that connect to AT&T’s 4G LTE network, not older 3G devices and only if they have a tiered or shared data plan.

More Info: Public Interest Groups to File Net Neutrality Complaint Against AT&T for Blocking FaceTime on iPhones and iPad, Save the Internet; AT&T Reverses Decision, Now Lets You Use FaceTime Over LTE On Both Tiered And Shared Data Plans, Business Insider;

FTC Declines Action on HP Blogger Incentive Program, Social Media Guidelines Expected Soon

The Federal Trade Commission had launched an investigation into HP’s Inkology “Tackle the Holiday” promotion which gave bloggers two $50 gift certificates – one to keep and one to give away, when bloggers failed to disclose that they received the gift cards for continuing to post blog content about HP Inkology.  In its no action letter,  Mary Engle, Associate Director of the Bureau of Advertising Practices, explained

We considered a number of factors in reaching this decision. First, a  relatively small number ofbloggers posted content about HP Inkology after receiving the gift pack and a few of those bloggers did adequately disclose their material connections. For example, one kept both gift cards and simply said that she was “a compensated brand ambassador,” and one described “the goodies I received” including “[t]wo $50 gift cards (one for me and one to give away to a lucky reader!).” Second, both companies have revised their written social media policies to adequately address our concerns. The FTC staff expects that HP . . . will take reasonable steps to monitor bloggers’ compliance with the obligation to disclose gifts they receive.

Engle is also leading the FTC effort on updating the Dotcom Disclosure Guidelines to address proper disclosures for social media ads and the FTC’s report or recommendations in this area are expected by the end of the year.