Google announced a new advertising program last week and the reports focused on a new Google policy that doesn’t affect us directly. (Briefly: Google sends money to advertisers when a web surfer clicks on a Google advertising link on a web page; the new program only pays the money if the web surfer also takes some followup action on the advertiser’s web site.)

There was another item buried in the announcement that might directly affect us in the long run – “text link ads.” Currently Google ads appear separately on a web page, easily identifiable as advertising. This new Google program will allow advertising links to be part of the web page text and visually identical to other links on the same page.

Newspapers have wrestled for years with the line between editorial content and advertising. The Los Angeles Times is in turmoil right now over similar issues. The entire newspaper industry was shaken in 1999 when the Los Angeles Times published a special section about Staples Center and shared advertising revenue with Staples Center without disclosing that fact to readers (or most Times employees).

This has the potential to blur that line on web pages. There will be no obvious way to tell that a news page has been paid for the link to an event, or that a blogger was paid for his link to an investment newsletter.

Here’s a blogger calling attention to the new program. There will likely be more discussion of it as the word gets out.

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