back to article FTC tells Google and pals: Not labelling ads properly is 'deceptive'

Google and other search engine providers have been told by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to distinguish adverts from results on their services. In an update to its decade-old guidelines, the FTC - which at the start of this year cleared Google of biasing its search results to nobble its Stateside competitors - said its …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about magazines?

    Because I can't count the number of times I've looked at a magazine out of boredom and seen a page along the lines of

    "Top 10 supplements" followed by 8 of teh top ten being taken by maximuscle, who it appears also pay for the most advertising with the mag. Or the "A study has shown olay is the number 1 most popular brand" with tiny fine print you need a magnifying glass to read which states the survey was taken by people who were buying olay products.

    Maybe to level the playing field we should ban adverts altogether. How can it be anticompetative for somebody to pay for advertising then?

    1. danR2

      Re: What about magazines?

      A magazine isn't a search engine. In fact magazines are pages of ads interspersed with content to glue the ads together. A search returns related-content ads that are often unique to that search. If you read the same magazines the ads appear over and over again, with only minor variations. They are easily visually filtered; nobody has to read the fine print.

      Again on this Register page there are two items of ad-drivel that have nothing to do with this story or the comment section. I filter them out automatically.

      1. Fatman Silver badge

        Re: "ad-drivel"

        Then you need to investigate a Firefox addon called "Ad Block Plus"

        I have been surfing the web for a long time (mostly) ad free thanks to it.

  2. adnim Silver badge

    If I want product I will search for it.

    AdBlock element hiding rules

  3. ratfox Silver badge

    Doesn't everybody do this already?

    In the vast majority of cases, it seems to me that ads are indicated clearly enough, though maybe my l33t Internet skillz allow me to avoid traps that more mundane surfers fall into…

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Doesn't everybody do this already?

      Try Google

      FFF7EC on FFFFFF background.

      Indistinguishable, unless viewed immediately perpendicularly.

      1. Credas Silver badge

        Re: Doesn't everybody do this already?

        Yes, indistinguishable - unless you count "Ads related to ..." or "Ads" at the top of the paid links as a subtle clue.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Doesn't everybody do this already?

        Microsoft are the main offenders here. Google actually differentiate quite well by comparison.. Looks like Microsoft's crying about Google under sham organisations has somewhat backfired...

        Which one of these is more obviously and advert..

        1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

      3. JeffyPooh Silver badge

        Re: Doesn't everybody do this already?

        There could and perhaps should be a Firefox plug-in to change the FFF7EC to something a bit more contrasty to the white FFFFFF.

        Over the years, I've seen them slowly increment the colour of the Ad section closer and closer to white. Once upon a time it was quite distinct. They've been narrowing the gap over the years.

        1. User McUser

          Re: Doesn't everybody do this already?

          "There could and perhaps should be a Firefox plug-in to change the FFF7EC to something a bit more contrasty to the white FFFFFF."

          There is such an add-on, it's called "Color That Site!"

          I found it to be a little confusing to use at first but after a short while I was able to shift the Yahoo! advertising div layer background color from #FAFAFF to something much darker and more obvious.

  4. Crisp Silver badge

    Advertising Feature

    Nothing turns me off a product more than adverts that try and look like regular content.

  5. David Nash Silver badge

    Not just search engines

    What about news websites where the apparently blank column each side of the news story turns out to be a link to an advertiser's web page (ie. an extension of the banner above)?

    I've been caught by that on El Reg before, not paying attention when I click in the "whitespace" to bring a window to focus and suddenly I seem to have clicked on a Microsoft ad.

  6. danR2

    Funny how Google can use plain language...

    ... for example their 404, busted robot, error message: "That's an error."

    But Ads? Hey Sergey, how 'bout:

    "These are people who want to sell you something. That's all we know:"

    1. danR2

      Re: Funny how Google can use plain language...

      Why would this get a thumbs-down? Is Google shill-voting on El Reg?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Shill-voting

        Google has tens of thousands of employees. Some of them are bound to be Reg readers, even if their jobs has nothing to do with being shills.

  7. David Walker

    They can start extending this to all sites

    Search is only one element of what has become an increasing problem - the Trojanization (yes I made this word up), pretexting or blagging - whatever you want to call it - of advertisements in all manner of webpages. More and more news websites like CNN and The Guardian are fitting adverts right into the main content of the page using similar layout of pictures and fonts to appear as if they are legitimate news articles. Now for the latter example there are links that you can click e.g. "whats this?" that explain they are paid. But I think it is a slippery slope especially for news sites. For radio and TV this was an issue in the past and now very large disclaimers are provided - we need to do this for the web it is a threat to an informed democracy when news is blurred with advertisements. There is also a preponderance of adverts using the CSS layer model to make pop-ups - and not easily blocked (at least not in that good old fashioned "ignore the javascript" way). Some fill the screen and some are marginal almost all have very small input areas to "dismiss" the advert. On touch devices without very precise taps it is easy to be taken to the advert website. More $$ for the host site - but how long before this becomes a route to actual malware. If legitimate sites start using social engineering in the same way as those wishing to host malicious sites, how will we ensure web security. It's time for governments to step in on what are serious threats to the web rather than the proposed bills that create censorship and target legitimate users as if they were criminals. Sadly despite all of this CSS gerrymandering, Google has a near total monopoly on online advertisements and revenue. These strategies don't work - except maybe for Google.

    1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

      Re: They can start extending this to all sites

      > Trojanization (yes I made this word up)

      No, you didn't.

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