UPDATE: The FTC said, via Twitter, that it does not plan to investigate Mr. Kutcher.
With the scintillating cover line “Forget Hollywood: Ashton Kutcher is Silicon Valley’s Secret Weapon,” the latest issue of Details tries to make the case that @aplusk is an investor first and an actor second. No surprise here, after all Mr. Kutcher recently described the kind of mentorship he offers start-ups in his portfolio, telling TechCrunch:
“There are certain people in the media world that can be really, really influential to a company. And I can kind of get a return phone call from most people that I place a call to. That level of introduction for people when they’re first starting out a company can become extremely valuable.”
Unfortunately for Mr. Kutcher his “extremely valuable” skill may end up running him afoul of the feds, reports Bits blog‘s Nick Bilton.
Along with the cover, you see, Details handed Mr. Kutcher the role of guest-editor for “The Social Issue.” The special online-only edition, available via Details Facebook page (that’s one way of making “friends”!), touts a number of hot tech start-ups, including Airbnb, Flipboard, and New York native Foursquare. But it fails to mention that Mr. Kutcher is an investor, beyond the throw-away line in the intro that he “puts his money where his mouth is, backing many of the companies he champions here.”
In fact, earlier this week, Gawker counted eight investments and two “business entanglements” among the 12 products recommended in the issue.
Now, after talking to the FTC and legal experts, Bits reports that Mr. Kutcher could be up for investigation for his failure to disclose those relationships. If any of those start-ups were planning to raise money through an initial stock offering, for example, Mr. Kutcher should have been in an SEC-mandated “quiet period.” SEC rules governing trading of private shares on the secondary market also apply.
Earlier New York Times coverage of the mutually beneficial relationship between Details and Mr. Kutcher (they look like they understand the internet, he gets to hawk his companies to consumers) glossed over the editorial indiscretion. But disclosure rules have gotten stricter since a 2009 law requiring bloggers and social media types to disclose ties to companies and products they write about. Richard Cleland, assistant director of the division of advertising practices at the Federal Trade Commission told Bits:
“If you’re out there promoting individual products that you have a specific investment in, it needs to be disclosed. If you have a significant economic investment that is not otherwise apparent, that may potentially affect the credibility of your endorsement, and I see that as a potential problem.”
However, Mr. Cleland did mention that he was speaking about endorsements in an editorial context. Guess that means @mrskutcher, whose tweets have been known to put her husband’s start-ups on the map, is in the clear.