Ashton Kutcher may not have much of a future in journalism. When he served as guest editor of anÂ online-only version of Details magazine, he failed to fully disclose his investments in Internet companies profiled in the issue. And that could draw questions from federal authorities.Details
The special issue, called “The Social Issue,” showcases some fast-growing technology start-ups without making it clear that Mr. Kutcher is an investor in a majority of them, including Foursquare, Flipboard and Airbnb.
Richard Cleland, assistant director of the division of advertising practices at the Federal Trade Commission, said in a phone interview that in an editorial context, people have an obligation to fully disclose their investments.
“If you’re out there promotingÂ individual products that you have a specificÂ investment in, it needs to beÂ disclosed,” Mr. Cleland said. “If you have aÂ significantÂ economic investment that is not otherwise apparent, that may potentially affect theÂ credibilityÂ of your endorsement, and I see that as a potential problem.”
Mr. Cleland would not say whether the F.T.C. planned to question Mr. Kutcher or Details, but noted, “It’s certainly a possibility that a case like this could be investigated.”
A representative for Mr. Kutcher’s production company did not respond to requests for comment. Dan Peres, editor in chief of Details, said in a statement: “If you read Ashton’s editors letter, you’ll see he succeeded in his mission to get people to talk about and even criticize 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.”
The only mention of Mr. Kutcher’s investments in the issue is a line in the introduction that says he “puts his money where his mouth is, backing many of the companies heÂ championsÂ here.” In a post on Wednesday, Gawker counted over a dozen profiled companies for which Mr. Kutcher is an investor or advisor.
The Securities and Exchange Commission could have questions for Mr. Kutcher too. If he was aware that the companies profiled plan to raise money soon through an initial stock offering, he would not be allowed to discuss those companies under an S.E.C. rule that mandates a “quiet period.” And if any of the companies have shares that are traded on a secondary market, S.E.C. laws would apply there too.
“The secondary markets are stillÂ governedÂ by federalÂ securitiesÂ laws,” said Christopher Bebel, aÂ securitiesÂ lawyer with the firm Tefteller Newsom & Tefteller and aÂ former lawyer with the S.E.C. “These rules apply any time there is a securities transaction; the federal securities laws cast a very broad net and basically prohibit deception in connection with the sale of any security without full disclosure.”
A spokeswoman for the S.E.C. declined to comment.
The disclosure issue has become more prominent in recent years after aÂ law was introduced in 2009 requiring bloggers and other social media mavens to disclose any ties toÂ companiesÂ and products they mention.
Mr. Kutcher has nearly 7.5 million followers on Twitter and regularly mentions companies he has invested in there.