Already earlier posts have discussed that it is difficult for Local Search or Product Search results to tell if they are (organic) and/or user-created content which is usually shown on the left side of the Results screen, or paid content which is usually labelled as “sponsored links” and shown besides the results.
Local Search (also called Google places) is the service by Google which displays e.g. shops or businesses on Google Maps. Google currently does not accept money from shop-owners to provide basic information (address, phone number, website, opening hours) about their shop on Google Maps. As show below the Google Maps information is shown below the Top-Ad (yellow background, labelled as “sponsored link“).
What makes the issue of separation so interesting is that under EU-law commercial communication has to be clearly labelled as such. Thus if local search-content would be seen as commercial communication, as it is shown on the left side and not explicitly labelled an ad, Art 6 (a) of the e-Commerce-Directive (2000/31/EC) would be violated.
Under Austrian law this would subsequently mean an act of unfair competition as the act would be deemed misleading (“irreführend”) § 2 UWG, or subsequently seen as a distraction of customers (“Kundenfang”) or passing-off/dilution (“Rufausbeutung“) according to § 1 UWG. Advertising on search engines which can not clearly be identified by users as ads ( = Keyword Buying) most likely would infringe trademark law but would in any case be seen as an act of unfair competition.
US-websites (blumenthals.com and searchengineland.com) have recently noticed that Google is experimenting with the design of its search results page and in some cases did not show the Local Search results, as usual, above the organic search results but at the right-hand side of the screen. As a consequence, the local search results will most probably be seen as ads by the majority of search engine users. (click on the screenshot to enlarge)
.It will be interesting to see if Google will stick to its new layout. From a legal point of view, they better should…