The Federal Trade Commission has sent out a letter to 20 search engines informing them that they are not properly distinguishing the ads in search results from the actual results themselves. Back in 2002, the FTC doubled down on paid listings in search results, forcing search engines to clearly show a difference between the two, but the firm believes that since 2002, companies have fallen back into their old habits. “We have observed a decline in compliance with the letter’s guidance,” the agency said in the letter.
The FTC has now issued new guidelines for search result ads, saying that things such as borders, shading, and text labels must be different when compared to true search results. The agency pointed a finger at Facebook’s new Graph Search feature, saying that “Regardless of the precise form search may take in the future, the long-standing principle of making advertising distinguishable from natural results will remain applicable.”
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Among the search engines receiving letters are AOL, Ask, Bing, Blekko, Duck Duck Go, Google, and Yahoo. 17 unnamed shopping, travel, and local search engines also received the letter.
“Clear labeling and disclosure of paid results is important, and we’ve always strived to do that as our products have evolved,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement regarding the issue.
As we all know, Google already distinguishes ads from search results by placing a yellow shade around the ads, so whether Google will actually have to change its policy is a mystery.