Wanadoo rapped for 'misleading' search results

Sponsored links must be clearly flagged

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Wanadoo UK has been told to ensure that sponsored links from its search engine are "clearly identified in future" so as not to mislead punters.

The ruling by the ASA, the UK's advertising watchdog, follows a complaint against Freeserve (the ISP has since been rebranded as Wanadoo) which alleged that the summary of its search results did not make clear that the results were sponsored links. Instead, the complaint claimed that the results were ranked according to the amount of money sponsors paid, not according to their relevance to the search term.

Wanadoo denied that its site was misleading or that its search results were less relevant because they showed sponsored links first. It added that all sponsored links were clearly identified as being delivered by Overture, which provided the online advertising services.

But in a ruling yesterday, the ASA dismissed Wanadoo's claims after deciding that "consumers could be misled" by the inclusion of these sponsored links.

Andrew Ellam, the head of Web design firm 2-Minute-Website.com, and the man who made the complaint, is delighted at the stand taken by the ASA. Following his success, he's lodged a further 12 complaints against other search engines which, he believes, are also misleading customers.

Said Mr Ellam: "I contacted the ASA on behalf of all our small business clients". Since they pay less than a hundred pounds to get their website, they can't afford to spend hundreds on advertising - and they shouldn't have to.

"Consumers are likely to be fooled into thinking these adverts are unbiased search results, and small businesses who should appear in the listings are suffering".

"We've contacted the ASA about a number of other UK search engines and we've asked them to issue UK guidelines to correspond with those in the US, where the Federal Trade Commission ensures search sites make 'clear and conspicuous disclosure' when advertisers have paid to appear in their results."

Separately, Wanadoo UK has confirmed that it is re-jigging its business "in a way which will enable us to stay ahead of the market, and continue to thrive in a fast moving competitive environment".

The ISP said: "We are integrating the Portal and Internet Access sides of our business in three newly created departments, each led by a newly appointed Board member." ®

Related stories

Consumers don't trust paid-for search
Google back in court over Adwords
Search drives US online ad sales
Freeserve strikes ad blow against AOL, Tiscali

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Brit telcos warn Scots that voting Yes could lead to HEFTY bills
BT and Co: Independence vote likely to mean 'increased costs'
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
New 'Cosmos' browser surfs the net by TXT alone
No data plan? No WiFi? No worries ... except sluggish download speed
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Google+ GOING, GOING ... ? Newbie Gmailers no longer forced into mandatory ID slurp
Mountain View distances itself from lame 'network thingy'
Vodafone to buy 140 Phones 4u stores from stricken retailer
887 jobs 'preserved' in the process, says administrator PwC
Bonking with Apple has POUNDED mobe operators' wallets
... into submission. Weve squeals, ditches payment plans
EE buys 58 Phones 4u stores for £2.5m after picking over carcass
Operator says it will safeguard 359 jobs, plans lick of paint
Drag queens: Oh, don't be so bitchy, Facebook! Let us use our stage names
Handbags at dawn over free content ad network's ID policy
prev story


Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.