I am not an attorney and any comments I post are not intended, nor should they be construed, as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please consult a legal expert who is familiar with the area of legal expertise you need.
The below applies to people who review products as much as it does to everyone else. Also, if you give out free products or reimburse individuals for products they purchase and those individuals don’t reveal it in their reviews, you could be held accountable. It’s one thing to offer a free product to everybody, but quite different if you are giving out samples to a small group of individuals for the express purpose of getting reviews. A great example is the Amazon customer who doesn’t reveal in her Amazon reviews she gets reimbursed for the reviews. At some point, someone is going to turn her over to the FTC for not disclosing the information.
I am going to start with some links from my Disclosures/Disclaimers page: https://upsdownsfamilyhistory.wordpress.com/disclosures-and-disclaimers/
Federal Trade Commission (FTC – United States Federal Government Agency) Guidelines: Why Bloggers, Websites, and Others Who Use Affiliate Links, Offer Product Reviews, Etc. Should Be Aware of the FTC Guidelines
Specific FTC links: https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/attachments/press-releases/ftc-staff-revises-online-advertising-disclosure-guidelines/130312dotcomdisclosures.pdf (PDF file) and/or https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking.
The above links are good starting points for what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) considers when determining if a website or blog is in compliance with their guidelines.
When does a disclosure cross the line into misleading? For starters, sticking affiliate notices on the top, side, or bottom of your site isn’t misleading, but it does violate the FTC guidelines as you need to clearly mark any affiliate links as such. I rarely add affiliate links, but how I would mark them would be put (affiliate link) next to each and every affiliate link. Not only that, but if I am generating a decent amount of income from a particular link, I would give a general estimate of my monthly or yearly income from the link next to it.
I frequently see bloggers/vloggers who comment they are following FTC guidelines and post one or more of the links above. Yet, it’s clear from reading the FTC guidelines, they are not following them. For example, putting affiliate link notices at the top, side, or bottom of your post or article and/or not clearly marking affiliate links. For vloggers, you need to include both audio and visual indications in your videos indicating affiliate links.
Another major violation is making a comment you get a small amount from the affiliate link without giving more specifics. For example, if you have affiliate links with specific companies where you make 5 – 10%/affiliate link purchase, a popular blogger or vlogger could make $500 – $10,000+/month from the link. That’s not a small amount and is very misleading. I know several bloggers and vloggers who regularly make a lot of money monthly from affiliate links, but use similar terms about making a small amount from the links.
While the FTC does not actively go after bloggers/vloggers right now, they do investigate if one is reported for violating the guidelines. It’s only a matter of time before enough violate the guidelines to get the FTC to start monitoring blogs and vlogs. Some of the worst offenders are lawyers, other legal professionals, and law professors who should be aware of the FTC guidelines.