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Ashton Kutcher guest-edited a recent online-only issue of Details that primarily featured two pieces: "The New Titans of Tech," and "Generation Next," which focused on emerging companies and technologies, respectively. The catch? Three of the four sites/services profiled in the "Titans" feature are Kutcher investments, and a whopping eight out of the twelve "Generation Next" spotlights are partially funded by Kutcher. Turns out that the features might not only be shameless self-promotion. They might also be a federal crime.
"It's certainly a possibility that a case like this could be investigated," assistant Federal Trade Commission director Richard Cleland told the New York Times.
"If you're out there promoting individual products that you have investment in, it needs to be disclosed... If you have 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."
Ah, but surely Details made Kutcher's investments clear, if not for the sake of the article than for the sake of journalistic integrity itself. Well, sort of: a single line in the introduction notes that Kutcher "puts his money where his mouth is, backing many of the companies he champions here."
Now, I think "backing" fails to adequately delineate between: "I use these products" and "I am a majority investor in these companies." But it doesn't stop there: besides the aforementioned three investments in "Titans" and eight in "Next," Kutcher also promotes a site called Fashism (clever!) that he invested in and a company he co-founded called Katalyst Media.
Look, the fact that Kutcher's a self-aggrandizing famewhore is more or less common knowledge, and it's also expected that celebrities will pimp their wares anywhere and any time. But a line has to be drawn somewhere. And if it takes the Federal Government to finally take Kutcher down a peg, so be it.