Search Results and Advertising Ethics
Image by Paul Chenoweth
A few years back, when typing "Belmont University" into a Google web search, a link would appear in the paid advertising section with the phrase "Belmont University" highlighted as a hyperlink to another web site. Unfortunately, the paid advertising by Phoenix University used that highlighted "Belmont University" link to take visitors to a form that had nothing to do with Belmont and everything about gathering information from the visitor in order to send them recruiting information. That particular situation was resolved. Google claimed it was simply a programing/processing error.
Now, interesting enough, using the search string "Belmont University" in Google’s Image Search brings up images tagged "Belmont University" but also includes a paid ad for the University of Phoenix. There is nothing illegal about advertising on Google’s Image search results pages…it appears that the University of Phoenix has chosen to advertise when "Belmont University" is typed into the search box. Phoenix Ads do NOT show up when executing an image search for "Vanderbilt University", "Lipscomb University", "Trevecca Nazarene University", or "Cumberland University" (all private schools in Middle Tennessee). It appears to be a specifically ‘targeted’ advertising effort by the University of Phoenix…perfectly legal. But are there ethical questions involved?