Honesty and Integrity in Internet Advertising
It’s very rare for an industry professional to not have a business website. For consumers, finding the best industry professional to suit their needs is only a click of the mouse away. And, as in traditional advertising media, online advertisements – websites, social media, etc. – must all follow the advertising rules.
Now we all know that an advertisement saying a house is listed at $300,000 when it’s really $400,000 would be misleading, right? Clearly. We all know that an advertisement saying a mortgage rate of 0.5% over five years is available when the prevailing rate is around 4%, would be misleading.
But there are other ways to mislead consumers, and some of them are specific to online advertising and they might not be as obvious as misrepresenting the price of a house or a mortgage rate.
What would you say to an industry professional who has built a website that uses the names of other industry members, trademarked entities from which the industry professional has not received permission or title information for their website in its meta data (keywords, tags, description, etc)? Meta elements provide information about a website, most often to help search engines find it. Meta information is inserted into the HTML document, but is not directly visible to a user visiting the site.
That very issue, misleading website data, was recently dealt with by the Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals (CAAMP). The CAAMP CEO has laid out rules for ethical search engine optimization and CAAMP has released a statement reminding mortgage professionals to steer clear of misleading search engine tags. This reminder comes on the heels
of CAAMP negotiating a cash settlement agreement with one member whose Internet advertising was found to have violated those rules. It is also in the process of investigating another such case. RECA has also had a number of misleading advertising conduct review files on this very issue.
RECA shares a similar perspective to that of CAAMP. The fact is, intentional, deceiving meta data
usage could be in breach of section 41 of the Real Estate Act Rules, which states that all industry members must act honestly and section 42 of the Real Estate Act Rules, which prohibits industry members from making representations or carrying on conduct that is reckless or intentional and that misleads or deceives any person or is likely to do so.
Industry members are expected to be transparent and ethical in all of their licensed activities (advertising, etc.), with members of the public and other industry professionals. Any attempt to garner more “hits” to your website by being intentionally deceptive or misleading about the content of the website could be in breach of legislation and the Rules. Misleading consumers with deceptive meta data not only harms relationships between industry professionals, but can also harm the reputation of the industry as a whole.
Are there any other misleading advertising practices that you’re aware of when it comes to industry professional websites?