Tue 20th December 2011, 8:16pm
I just had a conversation with Betsy Lordan at the FTC.
She referred me to a document published by the FTC, 16 CFR Part 255, "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising
Within that document, it reads:
For purposes of this part, an endorsement means any advertising message (including verbal statements, demonstrations, or depictions of the name, signature, likeness or other identifying personal characteristics of an individual or the name or seal of an organization) that consumers are likely to believe reflects the opinions, beliefs, findings, or experiences of a party other than the sponsoring advertiser, even if the views expressed by that party are identical to those of the sponsoring advertiser. The party whose opinions, beliefs, findings, or experience the message appears to reflect will be called the endorser and may be an individual, group, or institution.
If Wikipedia does not allow "advertising messages", and the paid editor refuses to generate "advertising messages" on behalf of the client, then it seems abundantly clear to me that Mr. King's hand-waving about breaking FTC rules by editing Wikipedia pseudonymously on behalf of a paying client carries little to no weight in the real world.
Lordan went on to explain:
As for your question about Wikipedia -- whether anonymous editors at Wikipedia are at risk of FTC sanction if they modify articles about companies that either employ them or have a financial relationship with them: The FTC does not comment on the business practices of any particular business. However, generally speaking, according to the FTC’s revised Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, if a person is compensated to provide an endorsement for a product in advertising, and if that financial relationship is not apparent from the context, it should be disclosed.
In fact, in all of the materials Lordan sent me, the closest example I could find as it might relate to Wikipedia was this:
An online message board designated for discussions of new music download
technology is frequented by MP3 player enthusiasts. They exchange information about
new products, utilities, and the functionality of numerous playback devices. Unbeknownst
to the message board community, an employee of a leading playback device manufacturer
has been posting messages on the discussion board promoting the manufacturer’s product.
Knowledge of this poster’s employment likely would affect the weight or credibility of her
endorsement. Therefore, the poster should clearly and conspicuously disclose her
relationship to the manufacturer to members and readers of the message board.
Again, I do not see how a typical paid editor of Wikipedia is ever "promoting" a product. They are documenting what reliable, independent sources say about a product.
If anyone wants more information about the FTC's viewpoints, see the following:News releaseLegal Document
(The Guides)Business Education Materials
The Reverb case
was announced afterward, in August 2010
Another case against Legacy Learning Systems
followed, in March 2011
Until the FTC makes an explicit statement pertaining to Wikipedia, I am wholly convinced that normal paid Wikipedia editing is almost never in any violation of any FTC guidelines.