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EU Digital Chief Calls For Search Ad Transparency

April 16, 2016 - Written By Daniel Fuller

If you’ve done a search on the internet for a local product or service, or have been researching a possible purchase, you’ve probably clicked more than a few unassuming search links that actually put a few pennies in the search engine’s pocket. These ad links are pushed to or near the top of the list by paying the search engine, and would normally have a much lower position in your search. In some cases, it can be a bit difficult to determine when a link you’re about to click is promoted, rather than an organic result. On Google, for example, a small golden button that bears the word “Ad” is all that separates an ad link from a normal link. The European Union’s digital chief, Andrus Ansip, recently voiced concerns over the transparency of methods like this, calling out Google and Microsoft in particular.

At the moment, Ansip is handling a large-scale investigation into how a number of large tech companies make their billions, including the two mentioned above. As it happens, Google in particular is having a rough go in the EU at the moment, with a pending antitrust case poised to cost them handsomely. Among those methods, he cites search platforms, particularly the ads that fund them, as a source of concern. While he voiced some reservations about letting tech firms operate unfettered, he did specify that he won’t be making any attempts to implement a wide-reaching, single-layer policy, saying that such an idea would be “practically impossible” to implement with any level of success.

In the same breath, Ansip said that the idea of making search engines pay to display previews for some results has been scrapped, but also voiced concerns over the terms and conditions for both users and service providers concerning things like Android, Google Maps and iOS. He also said that there may be some transparency issues in another area; paid reviews. While not all paid reviews end up being positive, it’s a much more likely scenario, prompting a need for consumers to know if the review they’re reading may have been paid for by the maker of the product or service being reviewed. To close things out, Ansip made a few comments about current laws concerning illegal content on websites, liability for that content and possible changes to the law. In essence, the plan is to not hold YouTube responsible for an illegal video, for example, so long as they uphold their responsibility to take it down once they know of it.