UK Toughens Rules on Illegal Ads and Strengthens Safety of Children Online
The U.K. Government is going to strengthen rules on illegal ads and influencer scams to protect child safety online, requiring social media platforms, websites, and advertising display networks to take tougher action against age-restricted ads for products like alcohol and gambling.
These ads take various forms, including banners and displays that surround website content, prioritized search engine results, and pop-ups that appear on a user's screen.
As part of the government's Online Advertising Programme, the proposed measures will not only address illegal ads and protect children from inappropriate content but also clamp down on fraudulent celebrity endorsements, illegal weapons ads, targeted ads, and pop-up malware from hackers.
As stated by the U.K. Government, fraudulent celebrity endorsements — in which famous individuals appear to promote products or services they have not actually used — are a common occurrence that people encounter while browsing the internet. These endorsements are often used to promote financial scams, alongside seemingly legitimate pop-up ads that contain hidden malware capable of harming users' devices or compromising their personal information.
“Our plans will shut down the scammers using online adverts to con people out of their cash and will stop damaging and inappropriate products being targeted at children,” said Creative Industries Minister Sir John Whittingdale.
Last year, online advertising made up three-quarters (equivalent to 26.1 billion pounds — US$33.74 billion) of the total 34.8 billion pounds ($44.94 billion) spent on advertising in the U.K.
Illegal advertising can include the promotion of products that are prohibited under U.K. law, such as counterfeit fashion, fake ticketing, drugs, and weapons.
Under the new statutory regulation, major players in the online advertising industry will be subject to increased responsibilities. This includes not only online publishers, apps, and websites that serve ads but also “adtech” intermediary services that facilitate the distribution and placement of online ads. In addition, social media influencers who receive payment or free products for promoting certain products or services will also be covered.
To comply with the new regulation, social media platforms, search engines, and other websites will be required by law to implement effective systems and processes to prevent illegal ads from being served to users and to ensure that under-18s are not exposed to advertising for products and services that are illegal for them to purchase.
The U.K. currently relies on a self-regulatory system for online advertising, overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). However, the ASA lacks the power to tackle illegal advertising in the same way as legitimate businesses.
The measures will complement the Online Safety Bill, which focuses on user-generated content.
As declared by Anti-Fraud Champion Anthony Browne, “eighty percent of fraud is cyber-enabled and it often starts with fraudulent posts and adverts on social media.”