Dude, where's your declaration of interest? Ashton Kutcher in media storm
Saturday 20 August 2011
Ashton Kutcher made a name for himself by pulling the wool over celebrities' eyes in the mischievous MTV show Punk'd, but the Hollywood actor may soon find himself under federal investigation if it is proven that he attempted to do the same to readers of the US magazine Details.
Charlie Sheen's replacement in the hit TV show Two and a Half Men has been accused of plugging media companies in a special online edition of the magazine, without making it clear that he has financial interests in several of the firms.
The Dude, Where's My Car? star, who has made headlines for sharing too much information with his 7.5 million Twitter followers, was asked to guest edit "The Social Issue" for the magazine's September edition in which he recommends and profiles a series of technology companies.
But it has emerged he is an investor in several of these firms, including the social networking website Four-square, the social magazine app Flipboard and the accommodation website Airbnb, which could be viewed as a conflict of interest by US financial authorities.
Details, owned by Condé Nast, has claimed it did disclose Kutcher's interests by including a line in his editor's letter which says the actor "puts his money where his mouth is, backing many of the companies he champions here". But questions remain over whether the full extent of Kutcher's investments was made clear to readers, as legally required in editorial content.
"If you're out there promoting individual products that you have a specific investment in, it needs to be disclosed," Richard Cleland, of the Federal Trade Commission, told The New York Times.
"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." Mr Cleland declined to confirm if the FTC will launch a probe into the claims against Kutcher, but did say it was a "possibility" that "a case like this could be investigated".
Mr Kutcher could also fall foul of the Securities and Exchange Commission if it is also established he knew the firms he promoted intended to raise funds by floating on the stock market in the near future. This would breach a SEC rule that stipulates these companies should not be discussed during what is known as a "quiet period". The SEC declined to comment when contacted by The Independent yesterday.
"If you read Ashton's editors' letter, you'll see he succeeded in his mission to get people to talk about and even criticise this social issue. I stand by how we communicated Ashton's involvement with some of the companies included in our coverage and remain extremely proud of the work we did on this project," Dan Peres the editor of Details, said.
Ashton Kutcher's production company did not respond to requests for comment about the allegations.
This venture took Kutcher from celebrity dabbler to serious investor. Marc Andreessen persuaded him to invest in 2009 when the company was valued at $2.75bn. Two years later, it was sold to Microsoft for $8bn.
The travel website startup reportedly received $1m from angel investors including Kutcher last year. It was promoted in the "Generation Next" section in the online magazine he edited for Details.
Kutcher reportedly funded online social magazine to the tune of $10.5m last year.
The website matching backpackers with people renting spare rooms is thought to be his latest investment.
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