Tooth Whiteners, Not Review Copies, Darken Blogosphere

The Federal Trade Commission is riling industry watchers by suggesting that bloggers -- but not writers for mainstream media outlets -- should disclose every freebie they receive, even review copies that companies routinely give to journalists.

But even as the FTC is busy giving bloggers ethical advice, some companies are allegedly deploying online marketing strategies that are far more problematic than passing out free review copies.

Consider Greek company Farend Services, which markets its tooth-whitening products under names like Dazzle Smile Pro. (The company isn't related to dazzlesmile, which, separately, is claiming trademark infringement by Farend.) Farend appears to publish at least one so-called blog, Dazzle Smile Pro Review, which launched in June and carries nothing but posts raving about the benefits of Dazzle Smile Pro.

Farend also appears to use techniques similar to those deployed by ringtone marketers: The company allegedly advertises free trials, but then charges consumers high monthly fees.

The company is in the news this week because the Better Business Bureau recently issued a warning, saying it had received "a recent onslaught of complaints from consumers who thought they were signing up for a free trial of teeth whitening products but were repeatedly billed for products and services they didn't want." Additionally, Wiredreported this week the authorities in Utah are taking action against the company.

Tricking people with clearly fake blogs, or with deceptive free trial offers, are exactly the type of tactics that the FTC should be addressing. And, who knows, perhaps the agency is already investigating Farend and its U.S. business partners. Meanwhile, however, the agency is squandering its credibility by lumping together companies like Farend with legions of sincere bloggers who accept free merchandise for the sole purpose of reviewing it.

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