FTC Upping Scrutiny of Online Advertising
Ads that companies inconspicuously integrate into Twitter, news websites, and other digital platforms are getting new scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission.
The U.S. government's consumer watchdog announced Monday that it will hold a December 4 workshop in Washington, D.C., on "sponsored content"—also known as "native advertising"—to focus on the blurred lines between advertising and other content in digital media. The FTC is looking for members of the advertising and publishing industries, government regulators, consumer advocates, and academics to speak at the event. The agency also is accepting comments from interested parties ahead of the workshop.
In March the FTC, which has the power to file civil charges against businesses that mislead consumers, put out new guidelines on how digital advertisers can make ads that avoid deception. Its suggestions included putting the words "ad" or "sponsored" before tweets and other short messages from advertisers.
But the agency is still seeking some clarity on sponsored content as it works to ensure that consumers know the difference between what is and what isn't advertising online.
The FTC is looking to learn more about the difficulties digital publishers face in separating ads from other content, the integration of advertising into content on websites and mobile apps, the methods advertisers use to differentiate ads from other material, the business models that support sponsored content, and the interactions consumers have with native advertising.
“[I]t’s for sure ads in digital media are starting to look a lot like the surrounding content,” FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection senior attorney Lesley Fair wrote in a blog post. “What are the consumer protection implications now that those lines appear to be blurring?”
Susan Borst, director of industry initiatives at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, tweeted Monday that the trade group for online advertisers has its eye on the outcomes from the FTC workshop. The organization has a task force that is working to create a definition for native advertising.
The task force counts dozens of companies as members, including Facebook Inc., Google Inc., and Twitter Inc.