FTC wants search engine ads labeled


FTC / Federal Trade CommissionThe Federal Trade Commission has sent an advisory to search engine providers reminding them that if one of the results produced from a search is a paid advertisement, it must be so labeled. FTC said it’s bringing the matter up due to a trend in which ads are starting to blend in with “natural search results.”

FTC said it was essentially updating guidance originally provided back in 2002, sending letters to the providers. FTC stated, “The letters note that in recent years, paid search results have become less distinguishable as advertising, and the FTC is urging the search industry to make sure the distinction is clear.”

Included in the mailing were AOL, Ask.com, Bing, Blekko, DuckDuckGo, Google, and Yahoo! and 17 other commonly used search engines, particularly those that “…specialize in the areas of shopping, travel, and local business, and that display advertisements to consumers.”

FTC explained, “According to both the FTC staff’s original search engine guidance and the updated guidance, failing to clearly and prominently distinguish advertising from natural search results could be a deceptive practice.  The updated guidance emphasizes the need for visual cues, labels, or other techniques to effectively distinguish advertisements, in order to avoid misleading consumers, and it makes recommendations for ensuring that disclosures commonly used to identify advertising are noticeable and understandable to consumers.”

The agency continued, “The letters note that the principles of the original guidance still apply, even as search and the business of search continue to evolve.  The letters observe that social media, mobile apps, voice assistants on mobile devices, and specialized search results that are integrated into general search results offer consumers new ways of getting information.  The guidance advises that regardless of the precise form that search takes now or in the future, paid search results and other forms of advertising should be clearly distinguishable from natural search results.”

RBR-TVBR observation: If it’s an ad, it must obviously to consumers, period, regardless of media platform. Thanks, FTC, for making sure these new media upstarts play by the rules.