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FTC tells search engines to better distinguish paid from organic results
Have search engines been doing enough to distinguish clearly between organic search results, paid search results and ads? Not according to the Federal Trade Commission, who this week notified several search engines that they need to do better.
In 2002, the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection wrote to search engines advising them of the potential for consumers to be deceived by not prominently distinguishing between organic and paid search results, or other advertising on their websites.
While search engines embraced the guidance given at the time, a letter sent out by the FTC to seven search engines this week indicates that, since then, there has been a decline in compliance.
The updated guidelines contained in the letter emphasize "the need for visual cues, labels, or other techniques to effectively distinguish advertisements, in order to avoid misleading consumers". Also noted was that the background shading used by some search engines to distinguish ads from organic results had become "significantly less visible".
Those search engines that don't follow the rules could find themselves open to investigation and found to be in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act, leading to fines.
"We encourage you to review your websites or other methods of displaying search results, including your use of specialized search, and make any necessary adjustments to ensure you clearly and prominently disclose any advertising," says the FTC letter. "In addition, as your business may change in response to consumers' search demands, the disclosure techniques you use for advertising should keep pace with innovations in how and where you deliver information to consumers."
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