Search engines conventionally display such results towards the top which are most relevant to the user’s query. Same is usually true for the ads that are displayed alongside this content. However, search engines increasingly display paid ads without explicitly stating so. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has now sent warning letters to a number of companies over such practices.
In total, the Federal Trade Commission has sent these warning letters to 24 search engines. These include many big wigs such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. The letters specifically warn these companies that their paid and regular ads are increasingly hard to distinguish from each other, which is not a tolerable practice.
According to the text of the letters, “paid search results have become less distinguishable as advertising, and the FTC is urging the search industry to make sure the distinction is clear.”
The letter’s content goes on citing that a number of features can be used to tell the users about the paid ads. These features include labels, visual cues and certain other methods. Google has been quick to comment over the issue, stating that it is already abiding by these recommendations, “Clear labeling and disclosure of paid results is important, and we’ve always strived to do that as our products have evolved.”
That is true to a certain extent when it comes to Google. However, on Microsoft and Yahoo pages, paid ads are so well blended in with the general content that users are often unable to discern them. Let’s hope that the warning from FTC will persuade these companies to adopt better practices.
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