FTC Discloses Small Business Complaints Against Yelp

yelp-featured Many small businesses continue to feel that Yelp is unfair or complain that Yelp salespeople are using strong-arm tactics to get them to buy advertising on the site. Claims of "extortion" against Yelp have persisted though never been proven with evidence and the company has successfully defended a number of lawsuits on those grounds. These "extortion" claims again resurfaced in two articles published this week. One in the Wall Street Journal, focused on a lawsuit brought by Hadeed Carpet in Virginia over anonymous, critical reviews on Yelp. The business owner claims that the reviewers we [...]


Is Native Advertising Legal? Does It Matter?

native 1 I start this article with three controversial statements: Native advertising likely violates Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules on deceptive advertising Native advertisers and publishers will profit tremendously from these violations and receive little to no punishment or regulation from the FTC This concept, which I call “regulatory arbitrage,” has been proven to be highly profitable, having been proven by many other internet businesses First Things First: What Is Native Advertising? Go to virtually any article, social network or content distribution source online and you’ [...]


FTC: Brand-Incentivized Pins On Pinterest Potentially “Deceptive,” Require Disclosure

Cole Haan Eric Goldman alerted us this weekend (via Twitter) to an FTC ruling that may have a significant impact on the way that brands interact with users on Pinterest. The FTC determined (see embedded letter below) that a Cole Haan "Wandering Sole" contest that asked users to pin/re-pin images of Cole Haan products in exchange for a chance to win a $1,000 shopping spree "violated Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45." That section protects consumers against "Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices." It's also the section used to compel advertising or product-endorsement dis [...]


Pinterest’s First Transparency Report: Only 12 Govt. Data Requests

pinterest-data-requests Following in the footsteps of many other big name web/tech properties, Pinterest published its first transparency report on Friday. But there's not much of a comparison between Pinterest's report and the ones that others have shared in the past couple years. While companies like Google and Facebook typically report thousands of government requests in any six-month period, Pinterest says it received just 12 such requests between July and December 2013. Yep, 12. Here's the breakdown, in a chart that even I could've made: Pinterest says all 12 of those requests were from inside [...]


Google Invests $14 Million Of Combined $61 Million Tech Firms Spent To Sway Legislators In 2013

google-tv-money When it comes to influencing Washington, Google was at the top of the list of tech companies that spent a combined $61.15 million on lobbying efforts last year. According to a report from Consumer Watchdog, Google invested $14.06 million of the $61.15 million invested by ten tech firms, including Microsoft, IBM, Facebook and Oracle. Consumer Watchdog reports last year's total was a 15.9 percent increase over the $52.78 million spent in 2012 on lobbying efforts by tech firms. "Policy making in Washington is all about how much money you can throw around," said Consumer Watchdog's Privac [...]


The Future Of Internet Sales Tax: What’s Next After The Supreme Court’s Denial Of Amazon, Overstock Appeals?

law-legal-concept This week, the Supreme Court declined to hear appeals filed by Amazon and Overstock.com that challenged the ability of states to collect sales tax on items sold online by out-of-state retailers. The appeals stem from New York's passing of what has become known as the "Amazon Tax," which expands the definition of  nexus to include in-state affiliate marketers. Amazon and Overstock.com claimed the expanded interpretation of nexus violates Constitutional interstate commerce law and due process. The retail giants point to the US Supreme Court's 1992 ruling in favor of mail-order business Qu [...]


Advertorial Native Ads To Receive Closer FTC Scrutiny

Trojan Horse At one time the mixing of editorial and advertising content was an unthinkable breach of journalistic ethics. Now it's the hottest online advertising trend: Native Ads. Native Ads don't automatically violate US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules against "deceptive advertising" provided they're identified as sponsored content. However the question is whether publisher websites are sufficiently calling out Native Ads as advertising. According to the Wall Street Journal, the FTC is hosting a "workshop" on advertorial content this week called "Blurred Lines: Advertising or Content?" to dis [...]


New TCPA Guidelines: What Do They Mean For Mobile Marketing?

fcc-logo By now, you have likely noticed that everyone is talking (and texting) about the amendments to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) -- the same legislation that spawned the "Do Not Call" registry. But the news isn't exactly new. In fact, the TCPA guidelines were amended by the FCC in early 2012; but, they just went into effect on October 16, 2013. So why should we be concerned? While the guidelines encompass telephone solicitations as well as messaging, this article will focus on the impact of these changes to mobile marketers in particular. We will cover: The changes to the exist [...]


Taiwan’s FTC Fines Samsung $340,000 For Posting Fake Comments

computer-internet-legal-law-featured A number of reports are confirming Taiwan's Fair Trade Commission (FTC) has fined Samsung more than $340,000 for posting fake comments on its own products and criticizing competitor products via third-party marketing companies. According to a story on The Verve, the FTC's report claims Samsung paid people to "highlight the shortcomings of competing products" and discovered "nefarious activity" by Samsung commenters: The list of infractions includes the "disinfection of negative news about Samsung products," "palindromic Samsung product marketing," and the positive evaluation of Samsung pro [...]


Operation Greener Grass: Why Aren’t SEOs Up In Arms?

reputation_sstk Once again, SEO is in the news. Once again, the media (along with an elected official or two -- shocker!) clearly doesn't understand how the industry works. While it seems New York's elected (and appointed) officials could give a rodent's posterior about protecting the interests of anyone except Big Corporate, "so called SEO companies" are the new babies being sent out with the bath water. [caption id="attachment_60122" align="alignright" width="240"] Reputation Management[/caption] Enter, Operation Cleaner Turf; a yogurt shop sting with a sensational press release sub-headline on the of [...]


ActiveCast Media Sues Google For Withholding AdX Traffic Acquisition Payments

google-legal-law ­­­A lawsuit filed in US court last week by ActiveCast Media against Google provides an inside glimpse at just how opaque and complex the world of online traffic acquisition ecosystem can be. ActiveCast, a subsidiary of Web Integrated Net Solutions and headquartered in the British Virgin Islands, is suing Google for breach of contract, claiming the Internet giant is unlawfully withholding payment for traffic ActiveCast sent to Google advertisers as part of its contract agreement with Google DoubleClick AdExchange (AdX). In June, Google flagged the account for invalid activity and retr [...]


France To Fine Google On Privacy, Low UK Taxes Draw Ire

google-eu-200px Google's European woes continue. The outcome of the antitrust settlement negotiations is still uncertain and it's not clear that Google will "get off" without more concessions. Now, European privacy complaints against Google have come to a head, with France all but promising to fine the company. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that France's privacy regulator, the Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), told media on Friday that Google had blown a deadline to change the way it handles user data. According to the report a quasi-judicial process will now begin tha [...]


NY Attorney General Settles With 19 Companies In Fake Review Crackdown

pinocchio-lies-fake-toy-featured Little by little, the fake online review industry is cracking. Today, the New York Attorney General's office announced a settlement with 19 companies that agreed to stop writing fake online reviews. They'll also pay more than $350,000 in fines. The announcement marks the end of a year-long investigation that the AG's office called "Operation Clean Turf." The full list of 19 companies is available in the attorney general's announcement. It includes a mix of SEO/marketing firms and small businesses. A handful of companies agreed to pay fines that range from $2,500 to almost $100,000, while [...]


Appeals Court Rules Facebook “Like” Protected By Constitution

facebook-like-thumb-icon The First Amendment of the US Constitution protects Facebook Likes as free speech. That's according to a US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. The underlying facts of the case involved sheriff's deputies who were fired for endorsing (Liking) the sheriff's political opponent on Facebook. The existing sheriff discovered this and canned the deputies. They sued to get their jobs back and for damages. The lower federal court ruled in favor of the defendant sheriff on "summary judgment" and against the plaintiffs. The court said that a Facebook "Li [...]


Yelp Sues Law Firm For Faking Reviews, Firm Claims Retaliation

yelp icon You'd think that lawyers would know better. According to a lawsuit filed August 20 in California Superior Court, Yelp is suing the McMillan Law Group for breach of contract and related claims. The site claims the law firm posted fake reviews about itself. The Yelp suit recites that McMillan Law Group employees used personal Yelp accounts or created fake accounts to write five-star reviews about the bankruptcy firm. In many of these cases the users posed as clients of the firm and fabricated experiences. The following is an example representative of the claims in the lawsuit (full complai [...]


Edmunds.com Settles With Texas Marketing Firm Over Fake Reviews

edmunds-com-logo A Texas marketing company that was accused of registering more than 2,000 fake accounts to write car dealer reviews on Edmunds.com has agreed to a ban on using the site. That's part of a recently announced settlement between Humankind Design and Edmunds.com, which also calls for Humankind to pay a portion of Edmunds.com's legal fees and turn over information about all accounts and reviews that it submitted to the popular car-shopping website. In a statement, Edmunds.com CEO Seth Berkowitz called the settlement a victory for car shoppers and car dealers. "This is undoubtedly a victory no [...]


Edmunds.com Sues Texas Marketing Firm For Allegedly Posting Fake Car Dealer Reviews

edmunds-com-logo Edmunds.com, the popular car-shopping website, is the latest company to take legal action against fake reviews. The company has issued a news release explaining its lawsuit against Humankind Design, a marketing company based in Friendswood, Texas, for "fraud and breach of the Edmunds.com membership agreement." Edmunds, which says it manually screens every auto dealer review submitted to its site, claims that Humankind tried to register more than 2,000 accounts and used them to post fake reviews. An Edmunds' spokesperson tells TIME magazine that the fake reviews from Humankind began in Ja [...]


YouTube Becomes Latest Google Target By State Attorneys General

The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) has been accusing Google of facilitating consumer access to illegal sales of prescription drugs and counterfeit goods and from profiting from related ads shown in its search results. Now, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt are setting their sights on Google's YouTube, claiming Google profits from ads served alongside videos promoting illegal activity. TheHill.com is reporting that the two state AGs sent a letter to Google lawyer Kent Walker asking how much the company has earned from the [...]


Yelp Sues To Take Down Paid Review Mill

Fake Yelp reviews First brought to our attention by The Daily Dot, Yelp has sued to terminate and collect damages from a site called BuyOnlineReviews.net. The site leads with Yelp but it promises to generate fake positive reviews for a range of local directories and social sites including Google +, Citysearch, InsiderPages, Local.com, SuperPages, Foursquare, Kudzu, YellowPages as well as Yelp. Yelp has sued for a whole range of alleged illegal activities and violations. The company's objective is to close the site and collect fees and damages. Before the site is taken down -- and it will be -- you should [...]


Survey: 96 Percent Say “Do Not Track” Should Be Respected

privacy-security-online-computer A new survey from a group called Consumer Action has an unequivocal message for marketers: do not track us. The telephone survey was conducted in May among 1,000 US adults. The findings are pretty negative, even ominous, for publishers and ad networks. However, they should come as no surprise. In numerous past surveys consumers have consistently expressed ambivalence and even outright hostility to the idea of being tracked and targeted by online marketers, ad networks and publishers. This survey was partly funded through "a grant from Microsoft." Below I highlight some of the findings bu [...]


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