Group Accuses Search Engines of Deceptive Advertising

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Commercial Alert, described on its Web site as "protecting children and communities from commercialism," said it filed a complaint yesterday with the Federal Trade Commission against eight search-engine companies, alleging deceptive advertising.


Companies named in the complaint are Netscape, AltaVista Co., AOL Time Warner Inc., Direct Hit Technologies, iWon Inc., LookSmart Ltd., Microsoft Corp. and Terra Lycos.


Calls made to the FTC to confirm the filing were not immediately returned.


Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, Portland, OR, said the organization wants the FTC to investigate whether these companies have violated federal prohibitions by inserting advertisements in search-engine results without clear disclosures that they are ads.


"What we're hoping is that the FTC will require search engines to tell us when ads are ads," Ruskin said. "We hope that when search engines do clearly identify these ads, searchers will revolt and go to search engines that don't have these types of advertising."


Commercial Alert's mission, stated on its Web site, www.commercialalert.org, is to keep commercial culture within its proper sphere and to prevent it from exploiting children or subverting values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy.


Kathryn Shantz, director of corporate communications for LookSmart, San Francisco, said the FTC has not yet contacted the company about the complaint.


"This is essentially an attack on the entire search industry," she said. "It's really without merit."


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