FTC to ICANN on .Sucks: Yeah, we told you this would happen

FTC wants ICANN to address overarching issues with new TLDs rather than one-off cases.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has responded to ICANN’s request that it investigate the practices of top level domain name registry Vox Populi over its rollout of the .sucks domain name.

I’d summarize its response as: “yeah, we told you this would happen with your rollout of new TLDs”.

FTC’s Chairwoman Edith Ramirez wrote (pdf) that the FTC cannot comment on the existence of any pending investigations, yet noted that the FTC will “monitor the actions of registries and other actors in this arena”.

She reminded ICANN that it brought up many of these consumer protection issues during the process of designing the new top level domain name program: Click here to continue reading…

FTC rules search bias is OK, settles on Google scraping

FTC says it’s OK that Google promotes its own vertical search properties over rivals since it is designed to improve overall search experience.

The FTC has closed its investigation of Google and the search giant has agreed to make certain changes to its business practices.

One key issue was “search bias”, or Google promoting its own vertical search products over rivals. This was particularly the case with vertical search engines, such as product comparison sites.

Some of these sites complained that Google’s Universal Search promoted Google’s own listings over their own.

Indeed, the FTC found that Universal Search pushed some of these competitors off the first page of Google results, which led to much lower traffic to the sites.

However, the FTC determined that these moves were designed to improve the user experience rather than as a way to harm competitors.

While some of Google’s rivals may have lost sales due to an improvement in Google’s product, these types of adverse effects on particular competitors from vigorous rivalry are a common byproduct of “competition on the merits” and the competitive process that the law encourages.

While Google’s prominent display of its own vertical search results on its search results page had the effect in some cases of pushing other results “below the fold,” the evidence suggests that Google’s primary goal in introducing this content was to quickly answer, and better satisfy, its users’ search queries by providing directly relevant information. Notably, the documents, testimony and quantitative evidence the Commission examined are largely consistent with the conclusion that Google likely benefited consumers by prominently displaying its vertical content on its search results page. For example, contemporaneous evidence demonstrates that Google would typically test, monitor, and carefully consider the effect of introducing its vertical content on the quality of its general search results, and would demote its own content to a less prominent location when a higher ranking adversely affected the user experience.

Google settled the matter of scraping snippets of information from other web sites, such as product reviews, and including those in its own products. Site owners can now opt out of this and still remain in Google’s organic search results.

Marchex Named in Complaint to FTC

Amended complaint from consumer groups targets call tracking technology.

The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) amended a petition to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today to launch an investigation into mobile advertising and privacy concerns. The report calls out domain name company Marchex (NASDAQ: MCHX) for its VoiceStar subsidiary. According to the complaint:

…Marchex surreptitiously gathers data on mobile users and even records calls made in response to ads. Marchex’s call tracking service enables mobile advertising providers to: “(i) track the calls generated by advertisements on their network, (ii) determine exactly which advertisements delivered the calls, (iii) track and report key information including the duration, time of day and geographic location of callers, and (iv) record the calls. Marchex makes this information available to the mobile advertising provider through its comprehensive reporting interface…

Marchex gathers this data (including recording phone calls) without adequate notice to
the consumer, making it difficult for a mobile user to weigh the costs and benefits and
choose whether to opt out of this profiling. This constitutes unfair and deceptive practices,
and the Federal Trade Commission should scrutinize these actions.

I don’t understand what the big problem is. I suppose these are the same types of organizations that oppose using cookies in web advertising. The only thing that would concern me at all about this service is if the geographic location of callers pinpoints a user location as opposed to just a city/metro area.

The full complaint is online (pdf).