Update: The FTC issued a statement via Twitter Friday morning saying that it has no plans to investigate Ashton Kutcher.
When you’re part of a company that’s about to go public, the SEC has some pretty tight rules about what you can and cannot say during the “quiet period,” the time during which a company is prohibited from promoting itself in the media so as to avoid artificially inflating its market value. But there are also some pretty strict rules about what can and can’t be said about companies even when they’re private. Namely, it’s the issue of disclosure. If you invest in a company and then turn around and cover that company in a news feature without telling your audience that you’re an investor in said company, some folks might see that as a little duplicitous.
Now it looks like Hollywood darling and prolific tech investor Ashton Kutcher may face the wrath of the FTC after serving as a guest editor for an online-only version of Details Magazine, in which he failed to disclose his investments in a number of the companies he championed in the issue, according to the New York Times. The special issue, known as “The Social Issue,” was made available on Facebook and highlighted some of the fast-rising stars in the consumer Internet world, including AirBnB, Flipboard, and Foursquare…all of which happen to be companies Kutcher invested in.
In one section called “Generation Next…a guide to the emerging tools transforming the way you live,” Kutcher profiles 12 companies that people will be using in the future instead of the tools most use today. For example, right now, most people use Google for search, but in the future, most people will be using Blekko, and Kutcher explains why. The problem is that—you guessed it—Kutcher is an investor in Blekko. Of the 12 companies he profiled in that segment, ten are companies that he has either invested in, advised, or had some other business dealings with. Elsewhere in the magazine, he drops a plug for Fashism, another company he has invested in.
Other Kutcher-affiliated companies mentioned in the issue: Tinychat, Hipmunk, LikeaLittle, Grubwithus, Chomp, Path, Chegg (although Chegg tells me that its affiliation with Kutcher doesn't go beyond personal friendship), Zaarly, and SeatGeek, according to a report from Gawker. But nooo word of disclosure to let readers know that Kutcher wasn’t actually an impartial observer.
Chalk it up to one of the pitfalls of being famous and being an investor (we’ve all been there, am I right?).