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Excite-ingly Innocent:
The World of Metatags, Paid-placements, and Key Banners
Corey Else
Academic affiliation: Oklahoma State University
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Due to the swift popularity of the internet in almost every household during the 1990s, search engines have become a huge source for directing customers, clients, and researchers to the websites of their interest. With these rapid advancements, problems have risen over directing information with constant encroachment of boundaries to trademarks. Within these problems it is clear that the internet search engines are incapable of deciding whether the company's claim to the metatags or trademarks is just. Therefore, they are innocent of the charge of allowing unjust metatags into the market. Although search engines are innocent when it comes to metatags, it is the search engine's obligation to abide by the guidelines set by the Federal Trade Commission when doing business. Even though these problems can be resolved within the court system or the Federal Trade Commission now, the search engines must soon find the technology to regulate the problems that encroach on the laws set forth to protect the rights of the citizens.

With changing times and the fast paced technological improvements, problems are due to arise. Search engines, the giant necessity to the World Wide Web, must step up and improve on the mishaps that have come along in the internet market. Many of the problems are simple and can be fixed with improved technology that search engines receive through increased revenues.

The web creates many opportunities for encroachment on intellectual property including trademarks. An unusual form of encroachment is the improper use of metatags. A metatag is a tool used by the search engines describing the page's comments to the researcher (Spinello 1). When a metatag is used legitimately it has a great ability to direct researchers on the internet to the site for which they are searching. If a metatag is used illegitimately, the use of a competitor's trademark in a metatag, it can redirect researcher's traffic through the competitor's site before the original trademarked site is reached. Companies and sites use this as a technique to increase traffic to their website that would not have normally been there. This is an encroachment on their trademark laws as well as the rights of the competitors and others. Lastowka agrees when he states, "Although courts may conclude that a trademark holder doesn't have an affirmative right to be listed by a search engine, there is a strong argument that a trademark holder is at least entitled to protection against a search engine working with its competitors…" (149). Spinello also agrees when he states in his article that, "the use of a competitor's trademark in a metatag is morally unacceptable" (1). A Trademark used as a common English term describing a page should be allowed due to the role and definition of a metatag. Many of these arising problems can be fixed by the search engines by using a filter that does not allow Trademarks, which are used in non descriptive English terms, to be used in metatags.

"Search engines typically display results of a user's search for Web sites in order of relevance to the search terms. However, some search engines accept payment by Web sites that wish to receive priority placement in search results that normally would include the sites but would place them lower on the list. This is known as 'paid placement'" (Tantono 1). These paid placements usually precede the search results and are often times considered advertisement results. After several complaints, the Federal Trade Commission stepped in and enforced its guidelines on the search engines involved. "The Federal Trade Commission recommended that companies review their Web sites and make changes necessary to ensure that they: distinguish any paid ranking search results from non-paid results with clear and conspicuous disclosures; and make no affirmative statement that might mislead consumers as to the basis on which a search result is generated" (Tantono 1). With these guidelines effectively followed by everyone there should be no confusion to the researcher. If the search engines follow the guidelines now, the paid placements will be considered a standard and wont present problems in the future.

Another technique used by the web site owners is the idea of paid inclusion. "The practice referred to as paid inclusion is when the web site pays to be included in search results that would not normally include the web site at all" (Tantono 1). This is just another way for advertisers to promote their product like the pop-ups or pop-unders seen today. Lastowka believes that the search engines are the ones under attack when he states "shouldn't the search engines have control over how to guide users who visit their proprietary pages?" (149). Lastowka's statement is not true in this circumstance, because it is the search engines obligation to direct customers and researchers to the websites of their interest. If the website were to allow such a misleading plug in the results, it would be immoral, unfair and just another obstruction that researchers have to deal with. "The FTC is imposing the guideline set to insure rights to the public. The FTC decided that the search engines must clearly and conspicuously explain and disclose the use of paid inclusion" (Tantono 1). Again, If the search engines abide by the regulations set forth by the FTC, researchers in the future will be able to distinguish a legitimate hit from a paid inclusion hit and the confusion of the researcher will be eliminated.

A legal battle between Yahoo and Google, the leading search engines on the web today, was initiated by the introduction of advertising on the web and the revenue that is gained from it. "In return for giving Yahoo 2.7 million of its shares, Google, of Mountain View, Calif., will receive a perpetual license to Yahoo's patented technology related to matching online advertisements to Web-search engines. Google generates 98% of its revenue from such ads, targeted to specific Web searches and content" (Google 1). This new technology will give Google the ability to generate advertisements from the searches of content that the researcher is searching. This advertisement is then located in a designated Key Banner off to the side of the results. Lastowka and many others believe that customers and researchers will find no problems with distinction from search results and advertisement banners. Lastowka claims in his article that, "the advertisements were not, strictly speaking, results" (147). Therefore it abides by the guidelines of the FTC who encourages distinction between results and Key Banners. Not only will this boost revenues for the Google Corporation and other world search engines, but it will bring new and faster technologies to regulate intrusion on the rights of the citizens.

With rapid advancements within the internet, there will be rapid problems to follow it along. Within these arising problems, it is the courts and FTC have an obligation to find who is at fault and who is being immoral to benefit their site. In the future search engines should have the ability, due to increased revenue, to control and guide its users who visit their proprietary pages as they please, but they must protect the rights of the customers by using advanced technology and following the regulations set by the FTC. Metatags and paid placements that are recognized and tracked by the Federal Trade Commission will become the obligation to the search engines. It would be wise for the search engines to abide by the regulations that were earlier listed to improve the protection of the citizen's right. Advertising in banners is revenue for the search engines and should be allowed with guidelines to improve technologies. With the introduction of search engine's responsibilities in the World Wide Web, the rights of citizens and businesses who would to invest in the internet will not be challenged.

Works Cited

"Google Settles Dispute with Yahoo" The Wall Street Journal 10 Aug. 2004. 24 Jan. 2004. B.3 <http://proquest.umi.com/>

Lastowka, Gregory. "Search Engines Under Siege: Do Paid Placement Listing Infringe Trademarks?" Speculations. Eds. Jason Landrum, Matthew Wynn Sivils and Constance Squires. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendal/Hunt, 2003. 141-150.

Spinello, Richard. "The Use and Abuse of Metatags." Ethics and Information Technology;2002;4;1; ABI/INFORM Global pg. 23 <http://proquest.umi.com/>

Tantano, Welly. "FTC advises Search Engines to Disclose Paid Placements" Intellectual Property and Technology Law Journal Clifton:Oct 2002. Vol 14, Iss.10; pg.21, 2pgs. <http://proquest.umi.com/>

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