Thank you, Federal Trade Commission. Just when I thought the FTC was doing something potentially useful, they’ve decided that their own regulation providing for fines of $11,000 each time someone tweets or otherwise blogs for payment without disclosing that payment isn’t worth enforcing.

Last year, The FTC created a regulation that was designed to make knowing what was trustworthy amongst all the stuff you read on the Internet easier. If you blog, tweet, or basically say anything and are paid for doing it you have to disclose the payment. Failure to do so carries an $11,000 fine.

Soon after the regulation was enacted I mentioned that one Kim Kardashian was shilling for Carl’s Jr. over Twitter and that her tweets weren’t marked. I presume Ms. Kardashian hasn’t been fined.

Yesterday, the FTC gave me good reason for that presumption. A public relations firm that placed many uncredited reviews for their clients’ music on iTunes has reached settlement with the FTC, and will be removing the offending posts. And that’s it; there’s no fine. It’s kind of the equivalent of this short conversation:

  • “You’ve made a mess of this wall, young lady, please clean it up”
  • “OK, Mommy”

But on the Internet, nothing ever gets erased. Sure, the PR company might be able to “remove their reviews from iTunes”, but those words have already been stored in thousands of other places; they aren’t going away.

The business change lesson in this is simple. Just as Google and Verizon understand that the real impact of their pact on Net Neutrality is control, on the Internet, you’re in control. All you need is a clear understanding of how the things you say impact the space.

I’ll make the offer again: For $11,000.01 I’ll blog about you, and I won’t disclose that you paid me.

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