Social Media Risks and Rewards

On February 18, 2010, the International Law Office (ILO) published an article authored by Gregor Pryor and Sachin Premnath in the London office of Rimon, and Joe Rosenbaum in New York. It discusses the benefits and pitfalls of social media, and raises issues and concerns applicable to global companies—not just those on either side of the pond!

The article was derived from one published in Legal Week, and you can download your own PDF copy of “Commercial risks and rewards of the social media phenomenon” right here.

FINRA Issues Guidance in New Social Media Websites Notice

In November, Legal Bytes reported (Regulators Poised to Give Financial Institutions a Slap in the Facebook) that Richard Ketchum, Chief Executive of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), acknowledged Wall Street is eager to use social media to interact with customers. In the course of his remarks at a recent meeting of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), he noted, “We continue to witness the advent of technologies that will challenge your ability to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements,” and “Social networking is one such innovation.

Now, supplementing existing FINRA Rules, FINRA has released a notice concerning online media rules (you can download and read a copy of the notice below) whose key components include requirements that securities firms:

  • Must develop policies and require its employees to comply with the new regulatory requirements
  • Must retain records of communications (a compliance requirement of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934) when social media is used to communicate
  • Must ensure that recommendations made through social media are suitable to all investors to whom the recommendation is made (e.g., by limiting or filtering access based on investor/consumer qualifications)

FINRA’s notice takes the position that securities firms must adapt existing rules to social media and essentially mirror the 2003 FINRA definition of “public appearance.” This definition noted that chat room postings were no different than if a firm representative was in a room making statements to a room filled with investors. FINRA’s current notice indicates that information posted or content placed online (static information) is subject to these same rules and must be approved by a firm principal – presumably, even information about individuals in the firm that may be part of an individual’s profile on the firm’s website or in social media platforms. But online interactions that are occurring on the fly (e.g., in real time), while subject to supervisory requirements (e.g., they must be supervised, perhaps even monitored), do not require such approvals.

You can read or download the FINRA Regulatory Notice 10-06 (Social Media Web Sites) [PDF] here.

As mentioned in the Legal Bytes November post, SEC disclosure rules apply to Tweets, blog postings, wall postings and other communication platforms provided by social media sites, and other regulatory agencies are seeking to address the use of social media sites by the entities they regulate (e.g., the FCC, the New York State Insurance Department). So if any of this is of interest and if you need to know more or need help, please contact me, Joseph I. Rosenbaum, or the Rimon attorney with whom you regularly work. We are happy to help.

Update:  Rimon lawyers Christopher P. Bennet, Amy J. Greer, Jacob Thride and Kevin Xu have prepared a Client Alert on the subject which you can read by going to: FINRA Issues Notice for Financial Firms Using Social Media.

2010 ANA Advertising Law & Public Policy Conference

Join top legal professionals and government regulators March 17-18, 2010 in Washington, D.C., at the 2010 Annual ANA Advertising Law & Public Policy Conference, where you will hear from Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC and Doug Gansler, Maryland attorney general, as well as leading legal experts both from law firms and client-side marketers.

Connect with key industry leaders and policymakers as we discuss the most volatile and fast-moving legal and political environment for advertising and marketing in decades. Learn about the new regulations, legislation and major court cases that are fundamentally changing the business environment, and how you can keep up!

Legal Predictions for 2010 – Ad Age Book Of Tens

As it does every year at this time, Advertising Age has again published its Book of Tens. For as long as I can recall, that has included an amazingly prescient set of legal prediction ‘Tens’ from my partner, Douglas J. Wood, and this year is no different.

Go. Look. Read. Recall last year’s. Save this one for December 2010. It’s amazing how good his track record is . . . but then, if you know him, that shouldn’t surprise you. But some of his predictions this year, just might: Book of Tens: Legal Predictions for 2010.

You can contact Douglas J. Wood directly to tell him how ‘on target’ he is, or you can contact me, Joseph I. Rosenbaum, or any of the Rimon attorneys with whom you regularly work if you need more information or help in areas related to advertising, media, technology and entertainment. We are here to help.

H.R. 4173 = CFPA = Amend FTC Act. Why Should You Care?

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote (and likely pass) H.R. 4173. H.R. 4173, entitled the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009, but commonly referred to as the CFPA (Consumer Financial Protection Act), has been blogged about on Legal Bytes before (see Congressional Hammer Poised to Strike at Financial Advertising). The provisions to which advertisers might wish to pay particular attention are those that would amend the Federal Trade Commission Act.

Rather than summarizing industry concerns over this legislation, I’ve posted a copy of the Industry Letter, signed and sent to members of Congress on behalf of at least these twenty two (22) U.S. associations and coalitions: American Advertising Federation, American Association of Advertising Agencies, American Escrow Association, American Financial Services Association, American Herbal Products Association, Association of National Advertisers, Consumer Data Industry Association, Consumer Electronics Association, Direct Marketing Association, Direct Selling Association, Electronic Retailing Association, Financial Services Institute, Inc., Financial Services Roundtable, Interactive Advertising Bureau, International Franchise Association, Internet Commerce Coalition, National Association of Manufacturers, National Association of Professional Background Screeners, National Business Coalition on E-Commerce and Privacy, National Retail Federation, Natural Products Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

If you need more information, or if you believe you should have a voice in this process and don’t already have one, Rimon is here to help. You can contact me (Joseph I. Rosenbaum) or, of course, any Rimon attorney with whom you regularly work.

FTC (Revised) Endorsement Guides Go Into Effect

This post was written by John Feldman.

Yesterday, Dec. 1, 2009, the revised “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” released by the Federal Trade Commission came into effect. If you are a loyal Legal Bytes’ reader, you know we have been following this as early as November 2008, when we posted Endorsements & Testimonials – FTC Broom Proposes Some Sweeping Changes. Numerous updates and informational pieces have graced these pages since then (now when we say “pages,” we mean web pages), and you can refer back to any or all of them, or you can check out any you may have missed right here: FTC Testimonial and Endorsement Guides Stimulate Industry Comment (March 2009); a presentation given at the University of Limerick on the subject entitled “Trust Me, I’m a Satisfied Customer: Testimonials & Endorsements in the United States,” which you can download (If You Didn’t Make It to Ireland …); Ghostwriters: Medical Research or Paid Endorsers (and are they mutually exclusive?) and Rights of Publicity – Wake Up and Smell the Coffee! (both in August 2009); and FTC Releases Updated Endorsement & Testimonial Guidelines and Rimon Analysis of the New FTC Endorsement and Testimonial Guidelines (both in October 2009).

Yesterday, John P. Feldman, an authority in these types of advertising regulations and compliance and who is based in Washington, D.C., put together some thoughts concerning the implications of these Guides upon coming into effect, continuing his thoughtful and practical analysis. While we will maintain bringing you news and information about the Guides, John’s analysis is timely and helpful, and outlines some considerations every advertiser – online, in social media and off-line – and every blogger, viral marketer, celebrity endorser or consumer making a testimonial, should take into account. John’s analysis, which you can download and read in its entirety by selecting the link below, asks and answers the following questions about these Guides:

  • What does this mean for advertisers?
  • What is the most dramatic shift in enforcement policy?
  • What will this mean for advertisers that use celebrity endorsers?
  • How much control should sponsoring advertisers exercise over endorsers in new media channels?
  • What impact will the FTC’s new approach to clinical trials have on the OTC, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industry?
  • Is there a role for self-regulation and what do you make of the proposed “best practices” recently announced by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA)?

You can download your own copy of John’s analysis or you can read it online right here: “FTC Endorsement Guides (Revised) – Some Thoughts As They Become Effective“. You won’t be disappointed. In addition, if you want to know more about these issues or have questions about your particular circumstances, please do contact John P. Feldman directly, or you can call Joseph I. Rosenbaum or Douglas. J. Wood or, of course, any Rimon attorney with whom you regularly work.

Regulators Poised to Give Financial Institutions a Slap in the Facebook

This post was also written by Anthony S. Traymore.

A few weeks ago, Legal Bytes reported that, buried in the new financial services “reform” legislation, is the establishment of a brand new regulatory agency – the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (see Congressional Hammer Poised to Strike at Financial Advertising). Guess what. Not to be outdone, the regulators are in the act – pardon the pun – already. Witness recent statements by Richard Ketchum, Chief Executive of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). In recent statements, Ketchum acknowledged that Wall Street is eager to use social media like Facebook, Twitter and Linked In to interact with customers and, that to a large extent, the growth of the use of these sites is inevitable. But at a recent Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) meeting, he noted, “We continue to witness the advent of technologies that will challenge your ability to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements,” and “Social networking is one such innovation.”

At that same meeting, Ketchum raised the issue that retention functionality available on social media services may not be sufficient to ensure a financial service firm’s compliance with applicable regulations, including the FINRA Rules. If you aren’t a broker-dealer, don’t read the next sentence. But if you are: Imagine how social media services used by brokers to communicate with clients could impact FINRA Rules concerning Communications and Disclosures (see, Section 2200). FINRA has now set up a taskforce comprised of industry professionals to explore how firms may utilize social media to better communicate with their customers without “compromising investor protection.”

Such studies and evolutionary (or revolutionary) regulation are increasingly common these days. As our loyal readers already know, Legal Bytes reported previously (FTC Releases Updated Endorsement & Testimonial Guidelines and Rimon Analysis of the New FTC Endorsement and Testimonial Guidelines), that the FTC’s revised Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising will become effective Dec. 1, 2009. These revised guidelines represent updates to the prior guides, and acknowledge the proliferation of false claims, phony testimonials, and spurious endorsements (or negative comments) by consumers, experts, organizations and celebrities, through the use of blogs and other “word of mouth” marketing tools. As described in a recent Wall Street Journal article, the SEC disclosure rules apply to Tweets, blog postings, wall postings and other communication platforms provided by social media sites. Other regulatory agencies are similarly seeking to address the use of social media sites by the entities they regulate (e.g., the FCC, the New York State Insurance Department).

Do you have a social media policy?  The complexities are enormous. Internal (during work) and external (non-working hours). Employees, agents, contractors and suppliers. Domain names, URLs and trademarks (which include service marks, for you purists in the audience). Approved content or ad hoc comments. Official presence or not – condoned or not. Today, activities outside the scope of employment are often considered not attributable back to the company absent special circumstances or relationships. Will social media break down those barriers further? If so, what can companies do to reach their customers while continuing to protect their most valuable assets – their employees and their brands? Does a company have the right to regulate conduct outside the workplace, even if it involves reference to the company? Oh, and by the way, you do know that social media, enabled by the borderless web, doesn’t really pay attention to national boundaries, AND that means it’s not just U.S. law you may need to worry about – even if you are a U.S. company. If you are an international, multinational or global company . . . good luck. No, not good luck. Call us. Our Advertising Technology & Media Law group has unparalleled breadth and depth in understanding, working with, and advising clients in this brave new world.

So if any of this is of passing interest, stay tuned. If it is or becomes a pressing need, please contact Joseph I. Rosenbaum or Anthony S. Traymore, and let us help you avoid being anti-social. Of course, if you are already a Rimon client, feel free to contact the Rimon attorney with whom you regularly work, and he or she will be happy to coordinate your legal needs with us.

Investigating Online & Interactive Advertising

The U.S. Congress appears determined to investigate online advertising. Early this month, the House Energy and Commerce Committee issued a letter to more than 30 companies, and what began as an inquiry into how Internet service providers use network data to target advertising, has morphed into a fishing expedition into all kinds of interactive advertising. Most notably, and despite urging by the FTC to allow self-regulation to take hold, the Committee does not differentiate between personally identifiable information and non-identifying, anonymous data used for traffic metrics, ad insertion and other common advertising purposes. Lumping different kinds of information together could needlessly undermine marketing as it has been practiced for decades. The “tailoring” of advertising, in the Committee’s words, based on consumers’ behavior and media consumption patterns, has been at the heart of marketing for as long as marketing has been around.

More disturbing are presumptions that “privacy” rights are being violated by any and all forms of behavioral or targeted marketing. Advocacy groups opposed to commercial communication seek to promote an implicit, yet fundamental redefinition of personal privacy—i.e., anything that derives from peoples’ activities, no matter how distanced or anonymous. Taken to logical conclusion, any academic, commercial or journalistic observation of consumer activity could fall under regulatory restrictions under such a framework. Not surprisingly, the FTC—with its long history of regulation of advertising practices—has argued before Congress that self-regulation is likely to be an effective means of protecting consumers’ real privacy interests. According to testimony by FTC Consumer Protection Bureau Director Lydia Parnes before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation this July, the FTC is “cautiously optimistic that the privacy concerns raised by behavioral advertising can be addressed by industry self-regulation.” Nevertheless, in the letter released this month and in three previous inquiries over the past few months, both the House and the Senate seem to be searching for a rationale to regulate. Stay tuned.

To Collect or Not To Collect, That’s the Dilemma?

This article was contributed by Adam Snukal, Esq.

Surfed the web lately? Seen a banner promoting a product, service or trip to Ireland you priced yesterday? Serendipity? Luck? Cookies? Yes, it’s those tiny files placed on your computer when you visit a website. Advertisers can now parse through cookies on your computer when you visit certain websites and instantaneously serve up advertisements based on your historical online behavior—“behavioral marketing.” For some, this is a great convenience. For others, like New York State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, this is invasive and should be stopped unless the consumer has given consent.

Assemblyman Brodsky sees the acquisition of Doubleclick by Google as a step backward for consumers since the combined company could tap into a reservoir of consumer behavior and search data on an individual basis. So he introduced a bill aimed at restricting Internet behavioral marketing—The Third Party Internet Advertising Consumers’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008—that would prohibit advertisers from collecting and using sensitive, personally identifiable information from users online; require websites to clearly and conspicuously disclose behavioral policies and practices; give consumers the right to opt-out of profiling practices; prevent their online behavior from being collected and used to deliver targeted advertisements; and police how advertisers are permitted to merge and synthesize such information with other data (e.g., merging personally identifiable information collected offline with information collected online). Opponents—some of the largest interactive advertising and media companies—have voiced their opposition in a letter to Assemblyman Brodsky, noting, “Time after time, state laws that have attempted to impose this sort of broad Internet regulation have been struck down by the courts, doing nothing more than making taxpayers bear the expense both of defending the lawsuit and paying the successful plaintiffs’ attorneys fees.”

Continue reading “To Collect or Not To Collect, That’s the Dilemma?”

It’s a Dyanmic Environment Out There: Yes, You Can Still Avoid Being a Target

Most of us know the law tends to lag behind the marketplace. It is in the nature of most legal systems to try and balance statutory and regulatory authority—which makes rules based on experience or potential issues that will apply to future conduct—with judicial and regulatory decisions—cases that are adjudicated, create precedent and help shape the contours and boundaries of what is or is not permissible behavior within the statutory authorities.

In such a framework, we are often asked to counsel clients as to what is or is not acceptable when there may be little law, few regulations and sometimes no precedent. What to do? Well, as you may imagine, there is no simple answer. But there are some guideposts. A key guidepost is to consider common sense, best practices and some lessons learned from analogous legal precedent.

Continue reading “It’s a Dyanmic Environment Out There: Yes, You Can Still Avoid Being a Target”