FTC to Hold Workshop on How Its Rules and Guides Apply to Advertising and Commercial Transactions on the Internet

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The Federal Trade Commission today announced a workshop to be held on May 14, 1999 that will explore how the Commission's rules and guides apply to electronic media, including the Internet, e-mail and CD-ROMs. The Commission previously published a Federal Register Notice seeking public comment on this issue so that it could formulate guidance for businesses about how to comply with the law in their online advertising and commercial transactions. Many of those commenting expressed interest in participating in a public workshop to more fully discuss the issues.

The Commission's rules and guides cover some 40 subjects ranging from environmental marketing claims to credit practices. In a Federal Register Notice issued last May, the Commission addressed areas where there may be some uncertainty about how the rules and guides apply to new media. Some rules and guides, for example, use terms such as "written," that may more commonly be associated with print media. The understanding of the term "written" and other terms has evolved with the use of new technology, the agency said, and the Commission sought comment on proposed interpretations of these terms in light of the use of electronic media. The Federal Register Notice also proposed guidance regarding how disclosures should be made in electronic media advertisements. Many rules and guides require that material information be disclosed "clearly and conspicuously" to consumers to prevent deception. Because Internet advertising contains unique features, businesses are faced with new issues in making disclosures effectively. The Commission solicited comment on the factors it would consider in evaluating the effectiveness of disclosures in Internet advertisements.

The May workshop will be divided into two sessions, focusing on the issues that generated significant public comment and that the Commission believes will be useful to discuss further with participants. Session One will discuss how the Commission should evaluate whether disclosures required or recommended by its rules and guides are made clearly and conspicuously in electronic media advertisements. According to a Federal Register Notice announcing the workshop, the Commission staff will request participants at the workshop to discuss mock advertisements that highlight the issues faced in evaluating whether disclosures are clear and conspicuous.  The Commission also is providing interested parties with an opportunity to submit mock advertisements containing disclosures that may be useful for discussion at the workshop.

Session Two will discuss the interpretation of the terms "written," "writing" and "printed," as used in the rules and guides, in light of the use of electronic media. This session also will discuss how electronic media may be used to comply with requirements to provide information to consumers "in writing" or by "mail."

The Commission noted that those wishing to participate in the May 14 workshop must file a request by April 12, 1999. The workshop will be held at the FTC's headquarters in Washington, D.C., 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. The notice announcing the workshop will appear in the Federal Register on Wednesday, March 24.

All submissions should be sent either to the Office of the Secretary, Federal Trade Commission, Room 159, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580, or by e-mail to elecmedia@ftc.gov (no period).

The Commission vote to approve the Federal Register Notice was 3-0, with Commissioner Orson Swindle not participating due to medical reasons.

Copies of the notice announcing the workshop and the May 6, 1998 Federal Register Notice are available on the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, 202-FTC-HELP (202-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.

(FTC File No. 974102)

Contact Information

Media Contact:
Victoria Streitfeld
Office of Public Affairs
Staff Contact:
Laura J. DeMartino
Bureau of Consumer Protection