How search engines disclosed paid advertising was quite the popular topic a couple of years ago when the Federal Trade Commission issued recommendations to the industry.
Today, Consumers Union (the publisher of Consumer Reports) released results of a six month study that looks at how engines disclose advertising to searchers.
The 82 page report: In Search of Disclosure: How Search Engines Alert Consumers to the Presence of Advertising in Search Results, is available as PDF file.
"Searching for Disclosure," WebWatch's third search-engines-related report, shows many of the Web's top search engines have made improvements in disclosure and transparency -- describing their business relationships with advertisers and how those relationships may or may not affect the objectivity of search content and results -- since the FTC two years ago warned several major search engines about problems with the practice. While this report was being researched, two of the Web's top five search engines announced they would terminate paid inclusion.
Compliance with FTC recommendations for disclosure varied widely, however, leaving ample room for improvement throughout the industry. Even the report's testers, information professionals by trade, found disclosure and transparency practices among many search engines confusing and confounding. That increases the likelihood consumers may have a difficult time distinguishing objective search results from paid advertising.