The SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization) Board of Directors has sent a letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz regarding search labeling transparency.
The theme of the letter is in line with the open letter written to the Commission by search industry vet Danny Sullivan earlier this year, in which he called for the FTC to scrutinize Google as well its competitors when it comes to labeling search results that have been paid for.
"Should the FTC undertake such a review, in addition to signifying the understanding that recent extreme antitrust claims against Google search practices lack merit, it would also be taken to mean that the FTC perceives the benefits of taking a broader, industry-wide approach to search labeling and transparency – a positive position," SEMPO says.
SEMPO has spoken out against FTC regulation of Google in the past. See our interview with Chairman Chris Boggs here.
"As we have publicly stated previously, the search function is not a government-run utility, established by law and thus subject to bureaucratic oversight, but a service provided to consumers and businesses by private companies, which have set up their operations using their own principles, proprietary technologies and algorithms. We feel strongly, for a host of reasons, that regulating individual companies' search algorithms is undesirable," the letter continues.
"Nonetheless, we believe that a level playing field should be ensured for search as a whole – both for the protection of consumers and in furtherance of fair competition within the search industry," it adds. "Consumers and search engines are both better off when consumers have full transparency about why they are seeing which results on search websites. If the present FTC guidelines on paid placements are being widely flouted, or if certain industry segments – such as vertical search sites – harbor particular practices that mislead consumers, result in fraud, or offer unfair competitive advantage to their commercial customers, the public and the business community deserve to know. And they also deserve to have steps taken to protect them in future."
Here's the letter in its entirety:
Google has come out in support of such an industry wide review by the FTC. In July, a Google spokesperson told WebProNews, “Consumers benefit from clear labeling in search results, and we have always clearly disclosed which links are paid advertisements. That said, not all search engines clearly disclose paid results, so we would support a fresh look by the FTC at search labeling and transparency practices.”
We also asked other companies like Microsoft, Orbitz and Expedia whether they would support such a review. None of them would comment at the time.
Google, of course, is facing another kind of scrutiny by the FTC. Recent reports indicate that the Commission will come to a final decision on whether or not to pursue a suit against Google by mid November or December, with a reported four out of five Commissioners supporting a suit. Meanwhile, at least one congressman has written to the FTC saying that even discussing antitrust when it comes to Google "defies all logic".