Just to be clear, this is no more than a personal rant, so you may as well skip reading this article (hmm, talk about disclosure – hey FTC I am complying with your "guidelines" right from the start :D )!
As far as I can tell, two different schools of thoughts are running parallel on this issue. While one school says that FTC would give you two warnings before slapping a fine on you, another school disagrees with it. They say that guidelines, bereft of the force of "law", would not be able top offer "justice" to either parties- that is, the buyer or seller; rather it is just a "bullying tool" to be used by FTC against the "vulnerable", as and when it pleases!
Interestingly, FTC not only denounces the $11k fine "myth" but also touts this very "non-legal" nature of the "guidelines" as a big "advantage" (read Mary Engle’s article here AND the comments therein too) – since guidelines do not have the "force of law", you need not fear. Wrong! On the contrary, you have more to fear about these guidelines.
If the guidelines are NOT enforceable in a court of law, it means the FTC can pressurize you to bow to just about anything and you won’t have the chance to defend yourself in a court (they say that in US anyone who sues a government agency goes bankrupt, but not so in India – here, private organizations have sued the government left and right several times and won too, as long as the "government" was the guilty party; however if there are just "guidelines" and no concrete laws on a matter, then court cannot help you much).
Let me give you a better example of the difference between "law" and "guideline".
Take for instance, Paypal vs. your bank. While the bank is regulated by a regulatory body (in our country it is the RBI; I am not sure about US or UK), Paypal is pretty much self-governed (some people say that in UK they are regulated by the UK-based financial system; however, I am not sure if the same applies to US, Australia, or Canada; in India, so far as I know, Paypal is NOT regulated by the RBI, the governing body of the Indian financial system; in fact, I doubt they even know about Paypal at all)!
This in effect means that while banks have a set of rules to follow (meaning that they just cannot shut off your account, or hoard your money to get free interest on it at their whims), Paypal can do all those things with impunity! Paypal can limit/freeze your account at will, hoard your hard-earned cash at will, and you would have nowhere to go to because their vague "Acceptable Use Policy" would protect them, or so they think!
The Paypalsucks.com website has ample evidence of aggrieved customers filing mass limitation against Paypal; however Paypal, instead of defending itself in the court, usually opts for an out-of-court settlement by paying large sums of money to the aggrieved customers, each time such a lawsuit is filed).
It is no different with the FTC "guidelines" either. If you have ever experienced the "shoot first and ask questions later" rule of the big corporates, including Paypal, you know what to expect from FTC (in fact, government agencies are worse than private organizations)!
You know you would be doing everything possible to make sure your site is FTC-compliant, but there is no concrete law you can look up to, in case of doubt. For the same reason, you cannot even have your site verified by any attorney because-again – guidelines are just guidelines, not laws! FTC can, at its will, twist their "guidelines" to suit their requirements (that is, prove their allegation against you), and slap you with a big fine.
Much like Google keeps changing its algo all the time and till date nobody knows for sure what their "actual" algorithm of Google actually is; or, much like the "newbies" who wonder why, even after diligently studying and applying all the "secrets" gurus taught them, they are unable to travel in big cars or live in large bungalows like those gurus! ;)
FTC can slap you with a fine on a whim or fancy (just pray that a FTC official don’t have a bad hair day), using a trivial "loophole" you might have overlooked; they would take your entire business with them as they have already done to someone else! I am not saying this for the purpose of "fear mongering"; hey, I have nothing to sell you (if I were a lawyer I would have certainly sold you a bunch of "FTC secrets" :D) here!