Search Engines

When search engine companies first unveiled their engines, they did not put ads in the search results. Results were displayed based on objective criteria of relevancy tallied by algorithms.

However, search engines have sacrificed editorial integrity for higher profits, and begun placing ads prominently in or above the results, but often without clear disclosure of this practice. There are two types of deceptive ads. Paid placement is advertising that is outside of the editorial content of the search results, sometimes above or below the editorial content, or in a sidebar. Paid inclusion is advertising within the editorial content of the search results, though it does not necessarily guarantee a certain position within the results. Either can be deceptive when search engines fail to disclose that these "search results" are really ads in disguise.

Commercial Alert filed a deceptive advertising complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in July, 2001 against eight major search engines for disguising ads as search engine results. In response, the FTC warned search engines to adoptclear and conspicuous disclosure of ads in search engine results. We won.

Here are the key documents:

* Commercial Alert’s deceptive advertising complaint to the FTC, July 16, 2001 (html/pdf)

* FTC response to Commercial Alert, June 27, 2002 (html/pdf)

* FTC letter to search engine companies (html/pdf)

More Information

News Releases

Commercial Alert to CFPB: To Protect Consumers, Private Student Loan Advertising Must Be Regulated
Elizabeth Ben-Ishai | January 17th, 2012

Commercial Alert Files Complaint Against Search Engines for Deceptive Ads
Gary Ruskin | July 16th, 2001

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External Links

Consumer Group Asks FTC to Investigate Search Ads
Danny Sullivan, | July 17, 2001

Pay for Placement |

Buying Your Way In To Search Engines |

FTC Recommends Disclosure To Search Engines
Danny Sullivan, | July 2, 2002