Hey Google, Is That Uber Organic Maps App Thingy A Native Ad? Need #Disclosure?

Posted in Google, Mobile Search, Native ads

Google mobile Maps application seems to be blurring lines between giving directions and possibly native ads, in support of upstart on-demand car service Uber. Keep in mind, Google Ventures invested $258 million in Uber last year, which was one of Google Venture’s largest deals ever.

This post includes screen captures showing “Get an Uber” suggestions inserted in the Droid (Google OS) Google Maps app.

There’s a lot of buzz out there about native ads and what level of disclosure is required.  The FTC updated their general .com Disclosure Guidelines last March and held a full day native ads workshop last December. Still, there are no official FTC native ads guidelines yet. Various publisher organizations have rolled out suggested voluntary best practices.  Still, it’s the Wild West for marketers as pertains to native ads. That said, the key concept in what native ads should be seems to be to provide appropriate transparency and disclosure.

Let’s have a look and you decide for your own advertising disclosure standards if the Uber recommendations are valid suggestions or actually advertisements for Uber.  All of the testing was done in Chicago using a Galaxy S5 Droid using Google Maps Mobile App.  Google owns both the operating system and the app.

Walking? Consider An Uber

walking-uber

We requested walking information for two different length walks.  For the short walk, Google offered only walking suggestions. For the longer, 31-32 minutes walk, Google also suggested Uber.  The form of the “Get an Uber” unit on the page is essentially similar to organic suggestions (walking) on the page.  Is this a native ad? Where are taxis?

Where are competing on-demand car services like Lyft, a company that competes with Uber and recently raised a $60 million C round from Andreessen Horowitz? How about Hailo, which raised a total of $50 million from Richard Branson? The issue is not whether it’s better to take a car service when walking 32 minutes. The issue is why is Uber the only car service?

logos

 

Driving: Maybe An Uber?

car

Google is also testing “Get an Uber” marketing to mobile Maps app users who seek driving directions, at least for some length drives.  Do you think the unit on the left should require disclosure?

Need Subway Directions? How About An Uber?

subway-subway

Google suggested taking an Uber to the W Chicago Lakeside Hotel from O’Hare. Aside from Uber being the only car service suggested, this is reasonable. The W-Hotel is a long walk from the nearest L station.  However, perhaps more perplexing is that Google seems to be test marketing Uber to Maps app users seeking train directions who are traveling from one train station to another train station.

Are “Get an Uber” Google mobile Maps app suggestions veiled native ads? Should future FTC native ads rules apply to apps? Decide for yourself. This open question is a harbinger of what dialogues may come in the fuzzy world of native ads, apps, web pages and marketers.

  • Cleofe Betancourt

    Curious – does it count as an “ad” if it is the only one ever shown? That may be Google’s angle on this, especially if they claim to not be (directly) making money off the service offered.

    Very, very gray this is.