I'm going to avoid mentioning specific incidents, individuals, or websites, and hope that this thread doesn't go there, but reviews around here have had some problems and are getting worse. I'm not accusing anyone of doing something shady, just that maybe some people are entering new territory and don't know the rules. This industry is pretty casual in general but there's a slippery slope.
If you are based in the US, these FTC rules apply to you. I don't know anything about other countries. These apply to bloggers and internet forum reviews. If you tweet on twitter that you like your new board, these rules apply. Please read it before writing your reviews.
If you work for a product company, you should also read it before posting anything on the forum that discusses your product or a competitors product. Even if you are posting under your own name, and you hate your employer but need a paycheck, and are not biased towards your employer, these rules affect you.
Some relevant details if you don't feel like reading:
If you buy a board and decide to post a review, as any consumer would, that is a review
. Under these guidelines, you can say whatever you want (other guidelines such as libel may still apply; that's beyond the scope of this governing body).
If you receive a free board, or have any material relationship with the vendor, or anything from which you derive benefit from the vendor, that is an endorsement
. If you work with a vendor who "loans" you a test board, but "forgets" to collect it, and you have reason to believe that they'll let you keep it, that's still a paid endorsement under the law. Even if you completely trash-talk the product and have no bias, you're still bound by these rules.
With that title, you have several strict rules that you must now follow when discussing it. Some of these might be surprising.
1. You must fully and conspicuously disclose the nature of the relationship. You don't have to say how much you were paid, but you do have to say that you were paid, or you received some benefit.
2. You can't lie. If you say you rode some board and it has X specific benefit, you need to have the expertise and evidence to say that and it has to be true. If you don't, both you and the vendor are liable for false advertising.
3. You can't make claims that you aren't qualified to make. If you write as though you are an expert, but you are not, you're violating the law.
One example from the document clarifying where the line is drawn:
A consumer who regularly purchases a particular brand of dog food decides one day to purchase a new, more expensive brand made by the same manufacturer. She writes in her personal blog that the change in diet has made her dog’s fur noticeably softer and shinier, and that in her opinion, the new food definitely is worth the extra money. This posting would not be deemed an endorsement under the Guides.
Assume that rather than purchase the dog food with her own money, the consumer gets it for free because the store routinely tracks her purchases and its computer has generated a coupon for a free trial bag of this new brand. Again, her posting would not be deemed an endorsement under the Guides.
Assume now that the consumer joins a network marketing program under which she periodically receives various products about which she can write reviews if she wants to do so. If she receives a free bag of the new dog food through this program, her positive review would be considered an endorsement under the Guides.
And another example:
A college student who has earned a reputation as a video game expert maintains a personal weblog or “blog” where he posts entries about his gaming experiences. Readers of his blog frequently seek his opinions about video game hardware and software. As it has done in the past, the manufacturer of a newly released video game system sends the student a free copy of the system and asks him to write about it on his blog. He tests the new gaming system and writes a favorable review. Because his review is disseminated via a form of consumer-generated media in which his relationship to the advertiser is not inherently obvious, readers are unlikely to know that he has received the video game system free of charge in exchange for his review of the product, and given the value of the video game system, this fact likely would materially affect the credibility they attach to his endorsement. Accordingly, the blogger should clearly and conspicuously disclose that he received the gaming system free of charge. The manufacturer should advise him at the time it provides the gaming system that this connection should be disclosed, and it should have procedures in place to try to monitor his postings for compliance.
It's not productive to debate whether or not person X's fuzzy relationship will really create bias, who is trustworthy, etc. The rules are reasonable and exist for a good reason. It's not illegal to benefit from a positive review, but it is illegal to not disclose it.
Frankly, it's not following the letter of the law that I particularly care about myself, it's getting rid of all the BS when it comes to reviews. The law just happens to align with that pretty nicely in this case. Personally I make a lot of my buying decisions based on forum feedback, as do others, and the manufacturers know this quite well. I don't appreciate finding out after the fact that someone, or many people, turned out to be corporate shills or have a relationship with the manufacturer.
And if you're a product rep, keep in mind that everyone you give a board to is now an endorser and you
are also legally liable for any claims they make, or fail to make.