Revealed: The 17 Other Search Engines The FTC Warned Over Paid Ad Disclosures

ftc_logoIn June, the US Federal Trade Commission warned seven “general purpose” search engines — including Google, Bing and Yahoo — about the need to ensure they were properly disclosing paid ads. But 17 other “specialty” search engines were also warned. Which ones? The FTC wouldn’t say. Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, Search Engine Land can now reveal the names.

Our story from June — FTC Updates Search Engine Ad Disclosure Guidelines After “Decline In Compliance” – explains the warnings that were sent in more detail.

At the time, the FTC said that AOL, Ask, Bing, Blekko, Duck Duck Go, Google and Yahoo all received warning letters. It also said that 17 of the “most heavily trafficked” specialty search engines for shopping, travel and local information also got letters, but it refused to disclose which ones, when I asked.

I thought that was pretty odd. Why was it some big secret? But, that was an opportunity for me to file my first-ever FOIA request, at the end of June. This week, by good, old-fashioned snail mail, I got the list.

Drum roll please:

  • Bizrate
  • Citysearch
  • Expedia
  • Kayak
  • Nextag
  • Orbitz
  • Priceline
  • Pronto
  • Shopzilla
  • TheFind
  • Travelocity
  • TripAdvisor
  • Yellow Pages
  • Yelp
  • Yahoo Local
  • Yahoo Travel

It’s odd that Yahoo, which already got a letter for being a “general purpose” search engine, also got two others for travel and local. It’s not like Google or Bing got similar letters for their travel, shopping or local search engines.

What’s all this mean? Not that much more than what we previously reported, in that all search engines — even those that didn’t get letters — are still subject to the FTC’s guidance and warnings. But at least we know which ones the FTC felt deserved special attention.

Whether those search engines are meeting those guidelines is still something I plan to revisit in the coming months. The difficulty is that the FTC’s guidelines are so broad and, at times conflicting, that some of these search engines might argue they’re meeting things just fine; yet still, to the consumer, not really make clear what’s paid or not.

For more about that, my letter to the FTC about problems with disclosure is good background reading. You’ll find it below, as well as our article about the FTC’s warnings that came a year after my letter was sent:

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Features: Analysis | Legal: Regulation | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Durant Imboden

    FTC disclosure requirements open many different cans of worms (which may not be a bad thing). If the FTC is going to require search engines to be more upfront in revealing what’s being paid for, why not require the big e-commerce sites (or my local supermarket) to disclose spiffs?

    Example: At least one of the biggest hotel-booking sites gives favored placement to hotels that are willing to make certain commitments to the booking site (including payment of a higher commission). That isn’t obvious to the consumer. Shouldn’t it be?

  • Steve

    Two things going on:
    1. FTC trying to flex its muscle.
    2. Buncha bozos with no clue about the Internet trying to regulate it.

  • Jerry Nordstrom

    Great point and example Durant. I always like when somebody applies the “logic” behind a regulation across a wider spectrum – it tends to shake out faulty thinking.

  • atentat

    i think you are correct about the booking sites, they are after all nothing but search engines themselves.

  • Pete Dainty

    Great point.

    In terms of commission, if you’re running any business, of course you’ll favour those that pay you more or give you the better deals.

    As a consumer do you really care about how much commission is being made or the final price that you pay?

    Should every affiliate site (or even Google) say how much commission
    they make for each link and banner? No. Making it clear that it’s
    sponsored? Yes.

    It’s more about falsely influencing thought and opinion for profit when your users intent is purely informational. Looking at the adverts in the righthand column of this site, do they need to be disclosed explicitly as being paid for? Probably not. But if it were related to the topic/ opinion expressed on a page, for example, if there were an advert for Bing right next to a opinion column about Bing being better than Google, then it should be disclosed.

    In commerce that’s very tough because every product listing on your site is an advert or as you point out, in your local supermarket – If I highlight a deal on Xbox’s in my shop do I need to disclose it, probably not. If Microsoft where paying me to do so in favour of me showing deals on Sony, then yes I would say I need to disclose that and that’s when it gets blurry especially on how that’s enforced.

    You’re right, it’s a very big can of worms indeed, where do you draw the line and would you be able to? Should the FTC classify Facebook in this as well?

    P.s. which hotel booking site were you referring to?

  • Charles Floate

    I agree, like Google Shopping, have Promoted Items/Product/Service/Hotel etc… It should be clearly shown to the consumer rather than hidden for them to make the obvious choice.

  • constance762

    as Jeff answered I didn’t know that a student able to get paid $7750 in a few weeks on the computer. did you read this site w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

  • michael_webster

    It is next to impossible to discern the pink color which used to separate out the paid ads at the top of the search engine results page.

    This creeping disappearance between paid and organic could be a lay-up for the FTC, but it is easier to simply warn in general, section 5 language.

  • lauren123

    as Thomas replied I’m in shock that anybody can earn $7662 in 1 month on the internet. did you see this site w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

  • alisha652

    just as Stephen replied I’m alarmed that a person can profit $6009 in four weeks on the computer. did you look at this web page w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

  • Reva

    I’m wondering if this will eventually turn into the FTC requiring full disclosure of all affiliate relationships as well.

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