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<nettime> EU cracks down on fake blogger astroturfing
nettime's gullible consumer on Sat, 3 Nov 2007 14:54:22 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> EU cracks down on fake blogger astroturfing




Socks it to the sock-puppets
By Phillip Carnell
Published Saturday 3rd November 2007 08:02 GMT
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/11/03/eu_flogging_ban/

Nothing beats word of mouth for getting people to put their hand in their 
pockets. So it didn't take long for cheeky marketing departments to cotton 
on to the power of blogs and pose as consumers praising their own 
particular widget to the skies to help lift their top line.

Sneaky, perhaps, but usually legal. Not for much longer, however, as covert 
commercial blogging - or flogging - will soon be banned by Brussels.

Under laws due to come into force at the beginning of next year, but likely 
to be delayed until April for the UK, companies posing as consumers on 
fake blogs, providing fake testimonies on consumer rating websites such as 
TripAdvisor, or writing fake book reviews on Amazon risk criminal or civil 
liability.

The new rules are the result of the EU's Unfair Commercial Practices 
Directive, which is designed to do exactly what it says on the tin. Not 
only will it impose a general ban on unfair practices, but it will also 
include two main categories of unfair commercial practice: misleading 
practices and aggressive practices. Whether a commercial practice is 
unfair will be assessed in light of the effect it has, or is likely to 
have, on the average consumer's decision to buy.

The directive catches all commercial organisations - big or small - and the 
upshot is that companies (including sole traders) will no longer be able 
to pay individual bloggers or professional agencies to post false or 
misleading blogs or reviews online. Nor will they be able to do it 
themselves.

The directive is not just aimed at online activity, and a number of 
commercial practices will be unfair in all circumstances. This black list 
of practices includes "falsely claiming or creating the impression that 
the trader is not acting for purposes relating to his trade, business, 
craft or profession, or falsely representing oneself as a consumer". In 
other words, companies will not be able to pretend to be someone else, 
without clearly stating who they actually are.

But back to the web, and with sneaky marketing campaigns likely to be more 
effective than upfront marketing campaigns, what is stopping companies 
from simply risking it and continuing existing practices?

Those that break the new rules risk both civil proceedings and criminal 
prosecution. When it comes to catching the guilty in flogrante, the 
authorities will be allowed to make test purchases and enter premises 
without a warrant, if necessary.

But the crucial word here is "risk" - the government has already indicated 
that only serious infringements will be prosecuted, although it is 
probably best to assume that it will prod into action the Office of Fair 
Trading and Trading Standards, the chief enforcement agencies, should an 
illegal commercial blog gain a high media profile.

So it's six months (in the UK at least) until the plug is pulled on the 
blog flog as we know it. Of course, the new rules will not outlaw using 
these media, but firms will no longer be able to disguise themselves as a 
consumer without risking prosecution - and once it becomes clear that the 
blog or review is self promotion, some of its impact is likely be lost.

Whatever happens, the new laws are likely to have advertising and marketing 
agencies scratching their heads as they think up new (legal) online 
marketing campaigns.





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