Some have argued that the stalwart search engine Ask Jeeves could become illegal in the UK after September.

I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not going to offer any legal observations, but there does seem to be an issue with some interesting adverts in the search engine…

Here in the UK we need to keep The Cap happy when it comes to our advertising and marketing. No, this isn’t an oil joke. I’m talking about the Committee of Advertising Practice.

In September 2010 a new CAP code (for non-broadcast) comes into place. If you can bear to struggle with a PDF then you can take a look at it here.

To be fair to Ask, it can move quickly and its tactics change often, but perhaps the greatest question marks around Ask’s current tactics are in the “Recognition of Marketing Communications” section.

Simply put; adverts must be clearly labelled as adverts, and any marketing communications must be clear.

That’s not new in the UK. The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations legislation from 2008 also made this ruling. I’ve tried taking both search and affiliate marketing conferences through these rules before and it’s not easy. In fact, I wonder if whoever penned that set of guidelines had considered affiliates at all.

However, the IAB has a helpful guide and very early on it points out;

The Code is not specific on, but includes, paid-for search listings, viral advertising, in-game advertising, advergames (as part of a paid for ad), pre-roll and video display advertising, engagement marketing, tenancies, search listings on pay-per-click price comparison websites and advertising within mobile multi-media services (MMS).

Clearly, it’s the “paid-for-search listings” observation that’s relevant to today’s blog post.

Have you seen those blended search results in Ask these days? Here’s one for flights to Rome:

The catch? I don’t think that’s actually Ask’s equivalent of Universal Search at all. You just have to mouse over the LonelyPlanet link to see that the URL includes the query string “affil=askuk”. At a guess I might suggest that that stands for “affiliate is Ask UK”.

So is that an undisclosed advert?

I can see why some people would suggest that it is, and Ask will be earning money from transactions from that listing.

This isn’t to suggest that Ask is in big trouble. September is many weeks away and this particular search engine is good at constantly evolving itself.

The latest news is that will be rebranding as a social search engine. I’ve already signed up to ask for a beta invitation to the service. I’m looking forward to it too…