Revealed: The 17 Other Search Engines The FTC Warned Over Paid Ad Disclosures

In June, the US Federal Trade Commission warned seven “general purpose” search engines — including Google, Bing and Yahoo — about the need to ensure they were properly disclosing paid ads. But 17 other “specialty” search engines were also warned. Which ones? The FTC wouldn’t say. Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, Search Engine Land can now reveal the names.

Our story from June — FTC Updates Search Engine Ad Disclosure Guidelines After “Decline In Compliance” – explains the warnings that were sent in more detail.

At the time, the FTC said that AOL, Ask, Bing, Blekko, Duck Duck Go, Google and Yahoo all received warning letters. It also said that 17 of the “most heavily trafficked” specialty search engines for shopping, travel and local information also got letters, but it refused to disclose which ones, when I asked.

I thought that was pretty odd. Why was it some big secret? But, that was an opportunity for me to file my first-ever FOIA request, at the end of June. This week, by good, old-fashioned snail mail, I got the list.

Drum roll please:
•Bizrate
•Citysearch
•Expedia
•Kayak
•Nextag
•Orbitz
•Priceline
•Pronto
•Shopping.com
•Shopzilla
•TheFind
•Travelocity
•TripAdvisor
•Yellow Pages
•Yelp
•Yahoo Local
•Yahoo Travel

It’s odd that Yahoo, which already got a letter for being a “general purpose” search engine, also got two others for travel and local. It’s not like Google or Bing got similar letters for their travel, shopping or local search engines.

What’s all this mean? Not that much more than what we previously reported, in that all search engines — even those that didn’t get letters — are still subject to the FTC’s guidance and warnings. But at least we know which ones the FTC felt deserved special attention.

Whether those search engines are meeting those guidelines is still something I plan to revisit in the coming months. The difficulty is that the FTC’s guidelines are so broad and, at times conflicting, that some of these search engines might argue they’re meeting things just fine; yet still, to the consumer, not really make clear what’s paid or not.

For more about that, my letter to the FTC about problems with disclosure is good background reading. You’ll find it below, as well as our article about the FTC’s warnings that came a year after my letter was sent:

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