Frequent Google critic Consumer Watchdog (the ones behind the legendary Eric Schmidt evil ice cream man video) has filed a new formal complaint against Google with the Federal Trade Commission. This time it’s about Google Shopping results.
The organization calls the way Google displays results from Google Shopping “deceptive and unfair”.
“The way that the Internet giant is featuring results from Google Shopping without making it clear that the highlighted results are nothing more than advertisements for merchants who bid for placement is an unfair and deceptive act, violating Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act,” wrote John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director, in the complaint. “Moreover, consumers are actually being harmed because the featured results from Google Shopping more often than not return higher prices than can be found elsewhere, when consumers would reasonably expect Google’s suggestions to be the best.”
Really? Still with this?
Here’s what the results look like for “air jordans”. See the “sponsored” label? Seems pretty clear to me.
“Google’s presentation of the Google Shopping results disguises the fact that the results are in fact advertisements. Clicking on any one of the Google Shopping suggestions takes the user directly to the merchant’s page where the product can be purchased,” the letter says. “Each suggestion is nothing more than an advertisement, however, there is no label that makes this clear. The omission of an ad label is even more egregious when the Google Shopping results are presented surrounded by results that are marked as ads. Thus, the consumer can only conclude that the Google Shopping results are suggestions, not advertisements.”
I mean, it could say “ads” like other AdWords ads do, I suppose, but what else is “sponsored” supposed to mean? If you click on the icon that accompanies the label, it clearly says:
“Based on your search query, we think you are trying to find a product. Clicking in this box will show you results from providers who can fulfill your request. Google may be compensated by some of these providers.“
The complaint follows others from Consumer Watchdog about various other business practices from the company. You can get a sense of what they’ve spoken out against with a quick glance here.
You can read the new complaint in its entirety here.
The fact that Google has switched its product search feature to a paid model hasn’t been popular among some, and is certainly a reversal from corporate positions of old, but the labels Google displays on these results seem pretty visible.