Call Don’t Click Update: Discussion – Search Engine Results and AnnualCreditReport.com

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Many consumers rely on search engines to look for and find Web sites they want to visit. Consumers who remember that they want to find “annualcreditreport.com” may very well go to Google.com, Yahoo.com, MSN.com, or a variety of other search engines and type in search phrases such as annual credit report or annualcreditreport or annualcreditreport.com, among others.

Researchers tested these search phrases and keywords, among others, at a variety of search engines to see what sites consumers would be seeing in the first pages of results. During the month of June, 2005, the official site is the number one listing at many but not all search engines. Sponsored results are also showing up in some search sites, some of which then compete with the official results, depending on which search engine was used.

While this report does not focus on search engine results, the placement of paid listings does pose a potential issue for consumers. A January 2005 Pew Internet & American Life Project survey found users of Web search engines to be “unaware and naïve” about the role financial remuneration can play in some search engine listings. The report states:

Only 38% of users are aware of the distinction between paid or “sponsored” results and unpaid results. And only one in six say they can always tell which results are paid or sponsored and which are not. This finding is ironic, since nearly half of all users say they would stop using search engines if they thought engines were not being clear about how they presented paid results.” [41]

Even very basic testing on annual credit report –related terms points to the need for all search engines to follow the FTC recommendations regarding conspicuous disclosure of paid results and advertising. In its recommendations about this matter, the FTC noted in June, 2002 that search engines should do the following:

  • “Any paid ranking search results are distinguished from non-paid results with clear and conspicuous disclosures;
  • The use of paid inclusion is clearly and conspicuously explained and disclosed; and
  • No affirmative statement is made that might mislead consumers as to the basis on which a search result is generated.” [42]

Consumer Reports Web Watch has extensive research materials for consumers about search engine results and their relationship to paid advertisements. These materials are available at < http://www.consumerwebwatch.org/dynamic/search-report- disclosure-update-abstract.cfm>.

 

 

 

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Endnote:

[40] The research period for this report ended June 30, 2005. However, for informational purposes, the last check of the total number of imposter domains was July 12, 2005. This check revealed 240 imposter domains, which is in line with researchers’ findings that the number of registered imposter domains continues to creep upward.

[41] See Search Engine Users…, Deborah Fallows, 1/23/2005 at: <http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/146/report_display.asp>.

[42] Letter to Commercial Alert re: FTC complaint. < http://www.ftc.gov/os/closings/staff/commercialalertletter.htm >
Roadmap: CALL DON’T CLICK UPDATE – Still be smart about ordering federally mandated free credit reports: Discussion of Findings: Search Engine Results and AnnualCreditReport.com

 

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