a u.s. consumer watchdog organi-zation formed by a group of activists, including Ralph Nader, has filed a complaint against eight of the Web's largest search engines accusing them of violating stateside laws against deceptive advertising.The complaint stems from the practice of companies paying to have their sites strategically highlighted or bumped up in a search engine's results. Commercial Alert has accused search engines MSN, owned by Microsoft Corporation; Netscape, owned by AOL Time Warner Inc.; Directhit; Hotbot and Lycos; LookSmart; and iWon.
Story from Althernet with additional reporting by Kim Edward
The complaint purports that users have not received "clear and conspicuous disclosure that the ads are ads." Instead, users are misled into believing that their search results are based on relevancy alone.
AltaVista and LookSmart have denied the charges outright. "We have links that are partners and featured sites," AltaVista spokesperson Kristi Kaspar tells NOW. "But they say this clearly. They are paid for and separate from the search results."
Not all search engines have adopted these advertising practices. Google, for example, clearly notes that its paid placements are "sponsored links," and will not put paid ads within its results.
Google PR coordinator Barry Schnitt tells NOW, "People are looking for information. If you mess with results, people are not going to come back."