Wow! As a nerd on the PR and marketing beat I find this to be absolutely astounding and heartening: the UK is about to make it a crime for companies to misrepresent themselves as consumers in their online marketing. That means, for example, that a company setting up a fake blog to hype its own products could be prosecuted, fined, and jailed. Free speech? Whatever. This is an awesome development. And bloggers can be locked up, too!
The rules make it an offense to blog, use brand ambassadors or seed viral ads while "falsely representing oneself as a consumer." They also apply to bloggers who fail to disclose they have accepted money to write about a product.
This is not of course, happening in the US. But maybe bloggers should rethink their opinions about accepting free shit in return for positive reviews. Word of mouth marketing online is big business here, but most companies and their marketing agencies are smart enough to realize already that disclosure can save them a world of scandal and bad PR.
So far the exact penalties haven't been spelled out, and it will likely take a test case, reported to the Office of Fair Trading and prosecuted, to make clear the size of the penalty and whether jail time is really likely.