Group seeks to define what makes a Web ad

The government's Web chiefs want clarification about when listing a company on a Web site is considered an advertisement or endorsement.

Bev Godwin, the General Services Administration's FirstGov director, said figuring out what constitutes advertising is a gray area.

'When an agency says their Web site is powered by Google, is that advertising?' said Godwin, a member of the Web Content Management Working Group of the Interagency Committee on Government Information. 'We are just starting to look at these issues.'

Godwin said many agencies have partnerships with companies, and clarity is needed on when mentioning these companies should be considered advertising. Title 44 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations prohibits agencies from placing advertisements on their Web sites.

The working group likely will make recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget on how to deal with these issues as a part of setting standards for federal Web sites, said Sheila Campbell, senior content specialist in GSA's FirstGov office and co-chairwoman of the working group's Web Contents Standards Group.

The committee sent seven suggestions to OMB in June outlining Web site standards recommendations. The E-Government Act of 2002 requires that OMB release a policy by Dec. 17 based on the recommendations.

The working group also is developing a toolkit to let agencies review their Web sites' content and decide whether it contains potential advertising. The group plans to make the tools, including best practices and a discussion forum, available online later this month, Campbell said.

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