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Search Engines and Paid inclusion" - Clear and conspicuous disclosure" of paid placement

In 2002 the FTC issued a letter calling on the entire search engine industry to provide "clear and conspicuous disclosure" of paid placement and paid inclusion, the two primary methods of incorporating advertising into search results (also see an previous posting in the linking cases section). Paid-inclusion results simply show up in the ordinary results. Typically, users have no clue that their presence might owe more to cash payments than to the complex algorithms of a search engine. In November 2004 Consumer WebWatch,  a consumer advocacy group,  issued the study, "Searching for Disclosure," which evaluated the compliance of 15 major search engines with the FTC's guidelines.

Some Key findings:

  • Paid inclusion was not satisfactorily disclosed or explained by any of the search engines tested.

  • Meta-engines, which present results from several search engines simultaneously, repeatedly failed to adequately disclose the presence of paid placement and paid inclusion within search results.

  • Disclosures are generally hard to find, accessible by headings and hyperlinks that often blend in with the page, making them easy for consumers to overlook.

  • Information disclosed by the sites on business practices with advertisers - and how these practices may affect search results - was often confusing and jargon-laden.

So, search engines should make their disclosures of paid listings more visible and clear in the future.



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