Sunday, June 30, 2002

ftc to search engines: disclose paid results

When you search at a search engine such as one of those run by AltaVista, AOL Time Warner, Direct Hit Technologies, iWon, LookSmart, Microsoft and Terra Lycos, you expect the most relevant results for your search to appear. Sometimes, though you may receive certain web sites because someone has paid a search engine to return that page when a certain keyword, or keywords are used in a query. It's difficult to tell the two types of responses apart. It's also not always clear that some or all results on a specific search engine are of the paid-for-placement variety.

A few months back, a consumer advocacy group named Commercial Alert filed a complaint with the FTC asking that the paid-for-results be more clearly identified, so that consumers could tell between web sites that were relevant responses from the search engines database, and ones that they were paid to have appear. The FTC will be asking search engines from the above companies to more clearly label search results that appear as a result of paid placement. They also asked the companies to make it easier for consumers to find out more about their pay for placement programs, so that searchers can make informed decisions regarding which sites to visit, and which search engines to use.

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