Google Assistant may not be disclosing search results as paid ads

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When you ask Google Assistant a question, you expect that it is going to give you the best possible answer. What you might not expect is to be served up advertisements — especially ones that aren’t disclosed as having been paid for. A recent report from Reuters found that Google may be dangerously close to violating its own disclosure rules by recommending search results that are effectively advertisements.

According to the report, the issue stems from some of the local recommendations provided by Google Assistant. When asked for information about plumbing services and other home repair providers, the voice assistant often offered up results that came from a curated database of companies that are part of a Google marketing program. While those results are clearly marked as advertisements when they come up on a desktop or mobile search, they are not identified as such when read off by Google Assistant.

The results appear to be part of a Google program called Local Services. Launched in 2017, the program allows local businesses like locksmiths and repairmen to sign up to be vetted by Google. Only companies that are licensed, insured, and free of any legal issues are given approval. Those companies then have to purchase Local Services search advertisements from Google. The massive company takes a cut when a user decides to use one of the Local Services-approved providers.

Reuters ran the practice by five advertising attorneys who believe Google may be in violation of disclosure requirements. Because Google Assistant is providing search results, it should properly identify results that are getting higher placement because they are paid for. Of course, it’s not as easy to place a label on a spoken search result. Doing so would be slightly more intrusive, as Google Assistant would have to read off a disclosure for each paid result.

Google contends that its practices are in compliance with current requirements and claims that it isn’t getting paid from search results delivered through Google Assistant. The company may not need to make any immediate changes, as there doesn’t seem to be a clear enforcement method in place for ensuring paid search results are disclosed by voice assistants.

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