FTC Updates Online Ad Guides for Mobile Platforms

Disclosures Still Need to be Conspicuous on Smaller Screens

The Federal Trade Commission has revised its Dot Com Disclosures guide to online advertising guidelines to reflect rise of mobile platforms, including making it clear that disclosures have to be readable even in smaller space.

The guide was released in 2000, before the rise of smartphones and tablets and the migration to mobile broadband.

The new guidelines, released on Tuesday, still make clear that, where possible, it is best to make caveats and limitation part of the initial claim rather than a separate qualifying disclosure. But where disclosures are necessary, they apply across all media.

The FTC says it is best not to have to scroll to a disclaimer, and that they should be displayed before a decision to buy ("add to shopping cart") is offered.

The guidelines warn that if a disclosure is needed to prevent an online ad claim from being false or deceptive, it must be clear and conspicuous on small devices and social media platforms, and if that can't be done, the ad should not appear on those platforms.

One change to the 2000 guidelines is that while the old guidelines defined proximity of a disclosure to an ad as "near, and when possible, on the same screen," the new definition is "as close as possible" to the claim.

The guidelines discourage use of pop-ups for disclosures -- many people block them -- and recommend avoiding hyperlinks to disclosures of key elements like cost, health or safety.

The vote was reported as 4-0-1, with commissioner Jon Leibowitz.  That is because the vote came after the new commissioner Edith Ramirez became chair March 4, but before former chairman Leibowitz had exited later in the week, creating a period of a couple of days where he was still a member of the commission but not voting on any items.