Last month, search industry veteran Danny Sullivan called upon the United States Federal Trade Commission to scrutinize Google and other search engines – specifically, looking into their disclosure of paid listings.
A Google spokesperson tells 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.”
Though Google’s competitors are often eager to see scrutiny brought to Google, it’s not as clear if some of these same competitors are so eager to see such scrutiny brought to the entire industry.
When asked if they would support such a review from the FTC, Expedia and Orbitz, for example, did not return our request for comment. Microsoft, on the other hand, did return our request for comment, by saying, “No Comment.”
Sullivan had made points about Google not disclosing sponsored results on some of its vertical engines, even if such results came with the “sponsored” label, when appearing on Google’s main search product. For example, one might use Google’s Hotel Finder, but not necessarily know when a result was paid for. Sullivan also made the suggestion that there is an issue regarding device manufacturers who have accepted money from Google to select the search engine as its default, and how they should disclose this to customers.
As he pointed out in his letter to the FTC, there are plenty of similar issues among Google’s competitors.
Marvin Ammori from The Ammori Group wrote about the topic at GigaOm, saying:
I head a small law firm in Washington, D.C., where I advise technology companies, including Google, on public policy issues. As an advocate for open Internet rules, I’ve spent many years working on network neutrality issues, and I also took part in the SOPA and PIPA debates, as one of the opponents of unfocused copyright laws.
While advising Google on the FTC’s antitrust investigation, I have noticed an odd pattern: the companies complaining about Google’s actions all commit the same exact actions they complain about. If Google’s actions harm consumers, then so do its competitors. The competitors complain about some things that are not even a problem (such as using snippets of text in a search result) and other things that would be a problem if Google or any other company engaged in them (including deceiving users by mislabeling ads and search results).
Both Ammori and Sullivan talked about NexTag, who specifically made a point to call out Google in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, indicating that the company doesn’t disclose paid listings itself.
The point is, this is an industry-wide issue, and one that is not unique to Google, despite Google’s dominant market share, which already brings so much scrutiny to the search giant.
Just today, Google confirmed that it has offered a proposal to settle antitrust concerns from the European Commission. While we don’t know the details of the proposal yet, one has to wonder if Google is having to make changes to features that its competitors will continue to enjoy.