UK Ad Watchdog Raps Wanadoo for Paid Listings Disclosure

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A British regulatory group asked Wanadoo yesterday to clarify which of its search results are from advertisers.


In response to a complaint that the UK Internet service provider does not properly identify paid listings from non-paid, the Advertising Standards Authority said Wanadoo's mix of commercial and non-commercial results could confuse consumers.


Wanadoo's search results page returns Overture listings above non-paid Web search results. Clicking on a "more information" button at the top of the results page tells searchers that results with "Overture" next to them are paid advertising. Unlike many search sites, Wanadoo does not give its paid search results their own section with a "sponsored results" or similar heading.


"Because sponsored links were not clearly identified by a headline or title, and the search page did not contain an explanation of the purpose of the hyperlink, the Authority considered that consumers were unlikely to realize that the Overture hyperlink indicated that results were sponsored and concluded that consumers could be misled," the ASA wrote in its ruling.


The ASA asked Wanadoo, which was known as Freeserve in the United Kingdom until April, to identify paid listings more clearly as advertising. The group is a self-regulatory body set up by the UK advertising and direct marketing industries. Its rulings are not binding. In unresolved cases, the ASA can refer disputes to the government's Office of Fair Trading, which can seek a court injunction.


"We're looking closely at the ASA report and have no further comment to make at the current time," a Wanadoo spokeswoman said.


Overture began providing paid listings to Freeserve in October 2000. In January, Overture renewed its contract to show advertising links on the ISP's sites in four European countries.


In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission two years ago warned search engines to label paid results clearly. Microsoft's MSN portal plans to revamp its search results page July 1 to better demarcate advertising listings. It will do away with its "featured sites" heading over paid results in favor of "sponsored listings" and move them to the right side of the page.


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