The Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), a trade association of search and digital marketers, wrote a letter to the FTC yesterday, suggesting that the agency’s review of search transparency practices should not be limited to Google alone but apply to the entire search industry. A full review would promote a “level playing field” for the search market, SEMPO wrote, further noting:
“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. “
In recent years, the FTC has undertaken public workshops to analyze issues — including privacy and the future of the news industry — in greater depth and gather public comment. It ought to do the same with search engine labeling and transparency. The search industry has changed in the past decade and continues to change with integrated results, mobile results, specialized shopping, real estate and local search engines, and voice-activated searches. And perhaps the FTC should be examining these search practices not from the viewpoint of the Competition Bureau but from the viewpoint of the Consumer Protection Bureau.