Google's SideWiki product is a new channel through which users can create and post comments via the Internet. The difference? SideWiki allows users who have a Google account and have installed SideWiki on their Internet browser to read and post comments that appear alongside any Web site page. SideWiki users can share and link posts to other popular social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Google touts the SideWiki product as an additional resource for users to share information, insights, and expertise with other Internet users above and beyond the content on a particular page. A company may register with Google using its "Webmaster Tools" so that the company's posting will always appear as the first entry on the company's SideWiki page. Google's technical registration process is designed to prevent unauthorized persons from registering as the Webmaster for a company's SideWiki page.

SideWiki can be another way to enhance communication with consumers and further promote a brand. SideWiki can also create a user-generated forum that brand owners have no ability to moderate or control. Although SideWiki prohibits users from posting spam, malware, sexually explicit material, or content that constitutes copyright infringement, and warns that repeated violations of intellectual property rights may result in the termination of a user's Google account, it does not explicitly prohibit advertising by competitors. Moreover, the SideWiki Program Policies state that Google will not remove content simply because a user disagrees with the content or believes that it is inappropriate.

Currently, Google does not offer the ability to "opt out" from SideWiki or to independently delete unwanted content. In response, developers are creating methods for Web site owners to delete content and block SideWiki entirely.

Companies should consider proactively registering their Web sites with Google so that they can monitor (and respond to, if necessary) postings on SideWiki. Multiple Web sites can be registered with a single Webmaster, and the process for doing so can be accessed here. Further, brand owners should review any SideWiki post they have created or authorized just as they would any Internet advertisement, for compliance with the new FTC Guides and other critical reasons. You can access our alert on the new FTC Guides here.

For more information, contact Hara K. Jacobs (215.864.8209 or jacobsh@ballardspahr.com).


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