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

Related Articles and Links

Related Articles

Earned Media Tops Other Ad Sources, TV Ad Trust Up
Wayne Friedman | Media News Daily | September 17th, 2013

Google Hires for Privacy Red Team
Alastair Stevenson | ClickZ | August 24th, 2012

Voluntary guidelines for Web privacy backed by Obama administration
Cecilia Kang | Washington Post | February 23rd, 2012

Google Allows 'Do-Not-Track' Browser Button
Bloomberg | Advertising Age | February 23rd, 2012

Google's iPhone Tracking
JULIA ANGWIN And JENNIFER VALENTINO-DEVRIES | Wall Street Journal | February 17th, 2012

Watchdog sues FTC over new Google privacy policy
Jessica Guynn | Los Angeles Times | February 9th, 2012

A Guide to the Digital Advertising Industry That's Watching Your Every Click By Joseph Turow
Joseph Turow | The Atlantic | February 7th, 2012

96 percent of Google’s revenue is advertising, who buys it? (infographic)
Meghan Kelly | Venture Beat | January 30th, 2012

Water district taps Google for good coverage
Los Angeles Times | September 13th, 2011

Google Confirms It Aims to Own Your Online ID
Business Week | September 9th, 2011

Google Adds Shopping Click Metrics
Online Media Daily | September 9th, 2011

Google Confirms It Aims to Own Your Online ID
Business Week | August 30th, 2011

Senator mulls hearings on search rerouting
Politico | August 11th, 2011

Your Brain On Google
Ad Week | July 15th, 2011

FTC to Serve Google With Subpoenas in Broad Antitrust Probe
The Wall Street Journal | June 24th, 2011

$200 billion boom in display advertising is the goal, says Google ad boss
The Drum | June 12th, 2011

Google: Major Search Advertisers Spent $252M
Online Media Daily | June 9th, 2011

Google Just Blew Past Yahoo in Online Display Advertising
May 27th, 2011

Why Google Hasn’t Implemented A ‘Do Not Track’ Feature
PaidContent.org | May 23rd, 2011

Google Was Warned on Rogue Drug Ads
The Wall Street Journal | May 23rd, 2011

Is Google profiting from illegal ads?
The Washngton Post | May 20th, 2011

When It Comes to Inbox Advertising, Less Is Still More
The New York Times | May 15th, 2011

Google Near Deal in Drug Ad Crackdown
The Wall Street Journal | May 13th, 2011

Google prepares for possible $500 million settlement with U.S. Justice Dept
IT World | May 12th, 2011

Trying to Game Google on ‘Mother’s Day Flowers’
The New York Times | May 9th, 2011

Yahoo to keep personal search data for 18 months instead of three
Los Angeles Times | April 19th, 2011

Google Holds Out Against ‘Do Not Track’ Flag
Wired | April 18th, 2011

AP News Registry Is First To Use ‘Do Not Track’ On Large Scale
PaidContent.org | April 1st, 2011

Google's '+1' Lets Users Recommend Ads and Content
ClickZ | March 31st, 2011

StumbleUpon Unveils Paid Discovery, Its New “No Click” Ad Platform
Tech Crunch | March 14th, 2011

Google’s Tarnished Chrome
National Journal | March 11th, 2011

Hitting Up Mom & Dad For Cash Is Just A Click Away
Christina Cheddar Berk | CNBC | May 19th, 2009

AOL Morphs Logo Into TurboTax Ad
Brian Morrissey | AdWeek | April 15th, 2009

Targeted Ads on FTC Radar
David Bender | New York Law Journal | April 9th, 2009

FDA Warns Drug Firms Over Internet Ads
Jared A. Favole | The Wall Street Journal | April 4th, 2009

Advertisers Brace for Online Viral Marketing Curbs
David Gelles | Financial Times | April 2nd, 2009

Your Online Clicks Have Value, for Someone Who Has Something to Sell
Stephanie Clifford | The New York Times | March 25th, 2009

WPP, Google to Fund Web-Ad Research
Emily Steel | The Wall Street Journal | March 18th, 2009

Google's Ad Targeting Goes Behavioral
Verne Kopytoff | San Francisco Chronicle | March 11th, 2009

FTC to Marketers: Self-Regulate Behavioral Targeting
Ira Teinowitz | Advertising Age | February 12th, 2009

Marketers Take Search Ads Beyond Search Engines
Emily Steel | The Wall Street Journal | January 20th, 2009

Trade Groups to Craft Behavioral Targeting Guidelines
Mike Shields | AdWeek | January 13th, 2009

YouTube Plans to Sell Search-Based Ads a la Google
Jessica Guynn | Los Angeles Times | November 13th, 2008

Google: This Is Your Brain On Advertising
Mark Walsh | MediaPost | October 23rd, 2008

Will Video Search Ads Be YouTube's Money Mint?
Abbey Klaassen | Advertising Age | October 13th, 2008

Google’s New Tool Is Meant for Marketers
Miguel Helft | The New York Times | August 6th, 2008

YouTube: You Created the Content, Now Sell the Ads
Abbey Klaassen | Advertising Age | June 9th, 2008

NBC, Fox in Pacts for Targeted Mobile Ads
Brian Morrissey | AdWeek | April 1st, 2008

Yahoo Acquires Ad Technology Company
Louise Story and Miguel Helft | The New York Times | February 13th, 2008

Microsoft Shows Off Web Ad Prototypes
Jessica Mintz | Associated Press | February 6th, 2008

Ad Infuse Launches Ad-Serving For iPhone
Antone Gonsalves | Information Week | February 6th, 2008

Net Ad Growth to Continue, Deal or Not
Anick Jesdanun | Associated Press | February 6th, 2008

Advertisers Flocking to the Internet, Where the (Inter)action Is
J. Scott Orr | New Jersey Star-Ledger | February 3rd, 2008

Facebook challenged by ad-free rival
Mark Sweney | Guardian Unlimited (UK) | December 24th, 2007

Ad plans for Web run into privacy issues
Byron Acohido | USA Today | December 23rd, 2007

FTC Issues Online Ad Privacy Guidelines
Dibya Sarkar | Associated Press | December 22nd, 2007

Widget syndicator Clearspring launches ad network
Eric Auchard | Reuters | December 11th, 2007

Google looks to ad partners beyond DoubleClick deal
Michele Gershberg | Reuters | December 5th, 2007

More Web Surfing Data Helps Ad Targeting
Anick Jesdanun | Associated Press | December 1st, 2007

The EU Delays Google's Ad Buy
Catherine Holahan | Businessweek | November 14th, 2007

AOL Deal Marks Latest Digital-Ad Push
Emily Steel | Wall Street Journal | November 8th, 2007

Ad dollars flood Web, but will they go far enough?
Paul Thomasch | Reuters | October 12th, 2007

Marketers Trace Paths Users Leave on Internet
Saul Hansell | The New York Times | August 15th, 2006

Search Engines Are Powering Ad Revenue
Chris Gaither | Los Angeles Times | May 24th, 2004

Search And Destroy
Lev Grossman | Time Magazine | December 22nd, 2003

U.S. Warns Web Sites To Label Sponsorships
David F. Gallagher | The New York Times | July 2nd, 2002

FTC Seeks Disclosure of Ad Fees Related to Online Search Results
Nick Wingfield and Nicholas Kulish | Wall Street Journal | June 30th, 2002

Sites told to 'fess up; Search results often advertisers
Verne Kopytoff | San Francisco Chronicle | June 29th, 2002

FTC Wants Paid Search to Shape Up
Evan Hansen | C|NET | June 28th, 2002

Search Engines and Editorial Integrity; Is the jig up for honest search results?
J.D. Lasica | Online Journalism Review | April 2nd, 2002

We Get What They Pay For
Leslie Walker | Washington Post | February 28th, 2002

How to Net Results in Search-Site Seas
Leslie Miller | USA Today | August 13th, 2001

Search Me, Please
Margaret Mannix | U.S. News & World Report | July 30th, 2001

Step Right Up
Los Angeles Times | July 23rd, 2001

Key Internet Search Engines Accused of Misleading Users
Jube Shiver Jr. | Los Angeles Times | July 17th, 2001

Consumer Group Says Search Engines Use Deceptive Advertising
Associated Press | July 17th, 2001

Group Files Complaint with FTC on Web Search
Verne Kopytoff | San Francisco Chronicle | July 17th, 2001

So you thought search engines offer up neutral results? Think again
Paddy Kamen | Toronto Star | July 5th, 2001

Searching for profits; Amid tech slump, more portals sell search engine results to highest bidder
Verne Kopytoff | San Francisco Chronicle | June 18th, 2001

Clicks for Sale; Paid Plaement Is Catching On in Web Searches
Saul Hansell | The New York Times | June 4th, 2001

External Links

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

Pay for Placement
SearchEngineWatch.com |

Buying Your Way In To Search Engines
SearchEngineWatch.com |

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