The Federal Trade Commission recently announced a preliminary agenda for its upcoming public workshop called Advertising and Privacy Disclosures in a Digital World.  The goal of the workshop is to discuss revisions to the Dot Com Disclosures, the FTC’s current guidance document on online advertising disclosures, which was published in 2000. The Dot

by Rob Sherman and Allison Ray

The FTC’s recent announcement [PDF] that it will update its decade-old guidance on online advertising—known as Dot Com Disclosures [PDF]—has inspired animated industry discussion.

In its request for comments, the FTC highlighted that forums for online advertising that we take for granted today — such as social media and mobile apps — didn’t exist when the Disclosures were released in 2000, and so the guidelines will need to be updated to address these new forms of communication.  (Eric Robinson discusses this point in his post at the Citizen Media Law Project,)  For companies that place or distribute online advertising, these changes may have a particularly significant impact, particuarly since they will need to be framed in a way that is flexible enough to account for changes in the industry and technology that we haven’t yet seen.

When they were first released, the FTC intended the Dot Com Disclosures to import traditional advertising disclosure rules into the online context. The guidelines set a performance standard for disclosures rather than a technical checklist, allowing marketers some flexibility in creating disclosures as long as disclosures met a “clear and conspicuous” standard. Both the FTC and industry commenters noted the danger of creating overly rigid rules at a time when consumer understandings and the internet itself were constantly transforming.

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