After examining existing consumer protection rules and guidelines on
advertising, the Federal Trade Commission
this week said advertisers must be as careful to avoid misleading
consumers online as they would offline.
Since the current guidelines on “unfair or deceptive acts or practices”
often use the words “written,” and “printed,” the FTC issued a
paper advising how the rules should apply online.
If an advertisement needs to be accompanied by a disclosure to prevent it
from being misleading, the commission staff said it should be placed on the
same screen as the triggering claim, if possible. If not, advertisers
should use text, visual clues or hyperlinks to point consumers to these
disclosures, if necessary.
When hyperlinks are used, they should be obvious, consistent, and should
lead directly to the disclosure. The working paper even said advertisers
should assess the effectiveness of the hyperlink by monitoring
click-through, and making changes if needed.
The bottom line is that these disclosures must be prominent and noticeable.
Some e-mail communications got the seal of approval from the FTC, in the
paper. If an e-commerce order will be late, e-mail can be an appropriate
way of communicating that to a customer, as long as the person knows to
expect the communication through that medium. In addition, e-mail is a
permissible way for companies to communicate with members of a
book-of-the-month club or record club, who often must decline during a
certain time period if they don’t wish to receive that month’s selection.
But the working paper warned about possible violations of its regulations
stemming from e-mail marketing, saying that the same rules applying to
other direct mail solicitations should apply online.
The commission published the paper after a public comment period and public