Amazon’s Sneaky Ads

Rolfe Winkler and Laura Stevens, Wall Street Journal (Twitter workaround):

Kima Nieves recently received two Aveeno bath-time sets and a box of Huggies diapers through her baby registry on Amazon. The only problem? The new mother didn’t ask for the products, or even want them.

Instead, Johnson & Johnson and Kimberly-Clark Corp. each paid Inc. hefty sums to place those sponsored products onto Ms. Nieves’s and other consumers’ baby registries. The ads look identical to the rest of the listed products in the registry, except for a small gray “Sponsored” tag. Unsuspecting friends and family clicked on the ads and purchased the items, assuming Ms. Nieves had chosen them.


The Federal Trade Commission requires that native ads be labeled clearly and prominently—such as in easy-to-read fonts, distinguishable colors and contrasting shades—to avoid deceiving consumers. The agency has pressed search engines to more clearly highlight the ads in their search results with brighter colors.

Ads like these appearing in someone else’s list are undeniably deceptive, but even the ads that appear in an Amazon search query are similarly sneaky. I’ve uploaded a full-sized screenshot of a search I did for “board games”, and you can see just how easily the ad listings blend in with regular search listings.

I’m totally fine with Amazon displaying ads, even in search listings or in registries, so long as they are clearly and visibly advertisements. Like asking for location data, advertising should be blatant and transparent. It shouldn’t be a shameful attribute of a website.