FTC tells search engines to better distinguish ads from results

Jun 26, 2013

Whether you use Google or Yahoo! or some other search engine entirely, you've likely found yourself at some point clicking on a link, believing it to be a search result, only to be taken to what is obviously an advertisement, feeling annoyed all the while. This has become a more common problem over time as design changes make it harder to tell what results are money-backed, and in light of such the FTC is telling companies to make sure the distinction is clear.

The request was delivered to several search engines via a letter that updates the original guidelines established over a decade ago back in 2002. According to the FTC, both consumer organizations and industry organizations have requested that the guidance be updated to reflect current times and technology. Within the letter are instructions pointing out how this can be accomplished.

Advertisements need to be distinguished from search results using one or more methods, such as labels clearly stating which each is, as well as designs aspects for visual guidance, and any other techniques that "effectively distinguish" the difference between them. In essence, search engines need to implement whatever is required for the average Internet user to look at search results and tell the difference between which are advertisements and which are natural.

It doesn't matter whether the search takes place with an app, voice-based search options, or any other means - the ads must be obviously distinguished, says the FTC. In addition, it advises that while the guidance has been updated, all the original provisions still apply. Failing to follow the guidelines could result in a company being pegged as engaging in deceptive practices, potentially causing it grief down the road.

Several big-name search engines received the letters, including Google and Yahoo! as perhaps the most notable. The privacy-centric DuckDuckGo was also notified, as well as Ask.com, Bing, and Blekko. Likewise, a total of 17 other search engines that specialize in specific areas of search - the most used among them - also received the notification to distinguish their ads from results.


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