Be careful as YouTube expands online shopping

YouTube is pushing deeper into the world of online shopping, positioning itself as the streaming equivalent of QVC or HSN (a.k.a. the Home Shopping Network).

The video platform said Tuesday it’s partnering with e-commerce heavyweight Shopify to expand its “creator-hosted streamed events.”

Which is to say, more sales pitches from people who present themselves as “influencers” but who may be, in fact, little more than corporate shills.

Live online shopping programs allow viewers to purchase goodies in real time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“Now eligible creators can link their Shopify store to their YouTube channel in just a few steps,” YouTube said in a blog post.

Keep in mind, though, that the easier it becomes to sell you things online, the greater the odds that disreputable types will seek to take advantage of you.

Amazon sued the administrators of thousands of Facebook groups on Tuesday over bogus online reviews. The administrators allegedly served as brokers offering cash or freebies in return for fake writeups.

If nothing else, Amazon’s lawsuit serves as a reminder to approach all online reviews with caution and a degree of skepticism.

“We know that creators and viewers have a unique relationship, and it’s this trust between them that helps inform what viewers ultimately buy,” YouTube says.

What you need to keep in mind is that “creators” are required to disclose any compensation they receive in return for hawking products.

“If you endorse a product through social media, your endorsement message should make it obvious when you have a relationship (‘material connection’) with the brand,” the Federal Trade Commission says.

“A ‘material connection’ to the brand includes a personal, family or employment relationship or a financial relationship — such as the brand paying you or giving you free or discounted products or services.”

Many creators and influencers view this requirement more as a Pirate-Code guideline than as a rule for maintaining market transparency.

That’s not to say you can’t trust all the friendly faces you see on YouTube’s live shopping streams.

But it’s a reasonable assumption that many if not most are lining their pockets as they pitch merchandise.

If they’re not addressing that, you have every right to be wary.

And you should absolutely keep this in mind whenever you watch these things.