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8 out of 10 want online ads clearly identified: survey

Emblem of the Fair Trade Commission
Emblem of the Fair Trade Commission
More than 80 percent of respondents to a recent survey said online platforms needed to change their practices for search ads to protect consumers from misleading marketing.

The Fair Trade Commission on Wednesday announced the results of a consumer awareness survey regarding attitudes toward search ads on online platforms. The respondents were 1,152 ordinary users.

Online search ads are displayed together with search results when users type a keyword in the search bar of a website.

The survey mentioned comprehensive portals, e-commerce open markets, price comparison sites, online-to-offline services and app markets. Online-to-offline or O2O services, such as delivery app Baemin and accommodation app Yanolja, give information online to entice consumers to buy products or use services offline.

According to the survey, consumers used mobile devices more often than desktop computers for all platforms, and mobile use was especially dominant for app markets and O2O services.

When asked if they were aware that search advertisements were featured on online platform services, 84.6 percent of the respondents said yes.

But consumers found it much harder to distinguish between search ads and unpaid search results when using newer platforms, such as app markets and O2O services, compared with comprehensive portals.

Many users said those online advertisements were displayed strategically and not clearly marked as advertisements.

Only 35.8 percent of the respondents understood that ads for products can be placed in between general search results as part of a sales strategy.

More than 80 percent of the respondents called for improvements in search ad practices. In addition, 78.6 percent said guidelines should be given for font sizes, colors, locations on a page and general context to indicate clearly that the content is advertising.

The FTC announced that it would further monitor online search advertising methods and concepts, with a closer focus on emerging platforms such as app markets and O2O services.

“We found that the majority of users feel the need to differentiate between pure search results and search ads, and we will work on this matter to ensure consumers’ rights in decision-making (are respected),” an FTC official said in a press release.

By Kim Hae-yeon (