Picture the small type in a newspaper ad and the voice-over in a TV ad that carry the required disclosure information on everything from contests to mortgages to purchases. Well, in the Internet world, where on the Web page should that same disclosure language be required?
That simple question is now the focus of a Federal Trade Commission inquiry.
DEFINING AD FORMATS ONLINE
Because the consumer protection guides written years ago did not include specific rules regarding communications on the Internet, the FTC is asking for comments from marketers to determine exactly where on Web pages it should require disclosure language.
"The issue here is what is `clear and conspicuous.' Is it a banner? Is it a pop-up? Does an offer need a frame around it?," asked Elaine Kolish, the FTC's associate director of enforcement.
ALREADY OVERSEEING WEB CASES
The FTC has been asserting its oversight of Internet marketing for several years and has filed a number of cases against Internet marketers. They take the form of a variety of deceptive offers, such as magazine subscriptions and offers to clean up a consumer's line of credit.
The inquiry, however, is the first time the commission is systematically looking at how the mandatory commercial disclosures required in other media should translate into Web pages and commercial e-mails.
The FTC also has been looking separately at privacy and children's issues related to disclosures.
The commission's notice of the Web disclosure inquiry, available on the FTC's Web site, provides a deeper look at the reasoning behind the moves.
"The unique features of electronic media present special challenges and opportunities for making disclosures effectively. The proposed policy statement, therefore, would provide guidance on how the commission would evaluate whether disclosures in the electronic media are clear and conspicuous," the notice read.
The FTC also is asking whether or not marketers sending commercial e-mails should be covered by the same rules direct-mail marketers follow.
Additionally, it is asking Web marketers to explain how disclosures should be treated when one page containing a required disclosure is linked to a page without disclosures. The FTC has imposed a July 6 deadline for receiving comments.
Copyright May 1998, Crain Communications Inc.