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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

Texas A&M utility Gavin Grahovac (9) throws the ball during A&Ms game against Georgia on Friday, April 26, 2024, at Olsen Field. (CJ Smith/The Battalion)
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Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp attends the Class of 1972 50-year reunion in Kyle Field on April 20, 2022.
A&M System’s Title IX director suspended after supporting Biden's Title IX changes
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A fighter jet squadron flies over during the National Anthem before Texas A&M’s game against Arkansas at Olsen Field on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Chris Swann/The Battalion)
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For the second time in three seasons, No. 3 national seed Texas A&M baseball will host the Bryan-College Station Regional, where it’ll...

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Beekeeper Shelby Dittman scoops bees back into their hive during a visit on Friday, April 5, 2024. (Kyle Heise/The Battalion)
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Kennedy White, 19, sits for a portrait in the sweats she wore the night of her alleged assault inside the Y.M.C.A building that holds Texas A&M’s Title IX offices in College Station, Texas on Feb. 16, 2024 (Ishika Samant/The Battalion).
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Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Search engines scam Internet users

The Internet, armed with the promise of limitless information and boundless possibilities, continues to gain importance and credibility as it is incorporated into people’s daily lives. But with this increased use and popularity comes an equally important responsibility – someone must provide Internet users with objective access to the large amount of information available on the Web, a role that ultimately falls on the shoulders of search engines.
As important as this role is, many search engines have recently been disgustingly dishonest and deceitful with consumers by giving higher returns to Websites that pay search engine owners in advance. The industry refers to this practice as “paid inclusion.”
No one is denying search engines their right to advertise. Banner ads and the like have become another integral part of the online landscape.
But in the aftermath of the dot-com crash, banner ads and other forms of advertisement have unfortunately lost much of their initial effectiveness. For the most part, obvious ads get passed over or simply glanced at and forgotten by ad-weary consumers.
Then someone had a grand idea – present a paid advertisement under the pretense that it is not an ad at all, and what better vehicle for this deception than the oh-so-popular search engine. So certain e-companies and Websites paid various search engines so that searches would yield results based more on payment than relevance to what was entered in the search.
By and large, Internet users are not stupid. Several consumer-interest groups have taken notice and are now crying foul. Ralph Nader’s watchdog group, Commercial Alert, has become the first group to issue a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding paid inclusion on eight search engines. These include the popular engines Alta Vista, LookSmart, Lycos and Ask Jeeves, and others.
Based on previous FTC decisions, the search engines in question will likely be forced to drop the practice of paid inclusion, or at least identify them as ads. Citing a federal prohibition against deceptive acts and practices, the FTC has already brought cases against various infomercial producers for their deceptive advertisements.
The real problem that groups like Commercial Alert have with these search engines is not their crass commercialism and need to advertise, but instead their intentional misrepresentation of these advertisements. This misrepresentation is, of course, done entirely on purpose. As Christopher Todd, an analyst for Forrester Research, said, “You don’t want users to come to your site thinking the information is being weighted by whoever pays the highest price tag.”
Ultimately, this deception can impact any purchases online shoppers may make. Though this is the obvious purpose of paid placement, it does not make the practice any more ethically or morally sound. The true purpose of search engines should be to search. They should not be reduced to mere advertising puppets of big business.
An alternative to these questionable search engines might want to look into is to simply identify paid advertising as such. The popular search engine Google plainly identifies paid placement Websites as “Sponsored Links,” because, as Google representative Cindy McCaffrey said, “Our search results represent our editorial integrity.”
Regardless of the way these search engines choose to handle the situation, with the FTC breathing down their collective necks, they will likely be forced into action soon. As Commercial Alert spokesperson Gary Ruskin said, “Advertising is creeping into every nook and cranny of our lives and culture. Americans are tired of it, and the backlash is growing.”
George Deutsch is a senior journalism major.

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