In July, the UK government published the response to its consultation on the Online Advertising Programme.  It said that legislative reform focused on two areas is necessary:

  • First, regulation to govern illegal advertising content. This aims to address the role of platforms and intermediaries and publishers in tackling illegal advertising perpetrated by malicious individuals and organisations. It builds on the stand-alone fraudulent advertising duties set out in the Online Safety Act and the duties set out in the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (soon to be incorporated into the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill).
  • Second, regulation to protect children against adverts for age-restricted products and services. This aims to enhance the existing self-regulatory framework in protecting consumers and children and young people by improving transparency on who is placing advertising, who sees what adverts and why, and what action is taken to prevent bad adverts reaching consumers.

It also announced the creation of the Online Advertising Taskforce, bringing together industry and government to build the evidence base and progress non-legislative action in the meantime.  The Taskforce has now published its action plan with two key objectives.

Objective 1: Improve evidence of in-scope harms

  • Publish a further consultation on the Online Advertising Programme, including a more detailed taxonomy of the in-scope harms;
  • Undertake research on online users’ experiences of advertising harms;
  • Publish case-study research identifying the online supplier pathway relating to age-restricted ads appearing on websites and other online environments disproportionately popular with under 18s;
  • Explore how to build up and share evidence on scam adverts;
  • Consider how information could be shared between members to increase the understanding of the prevalence and origin of in-scope harms and facilitate the ASA’s independent monitoring of in-scope harm ads;
  • Use new Ofcom information-gathering powers to support enforcement of the regulatory framework, which includes the duties on relevant regulated service providers relating to fraudulent advertising; and
  • Share information available about fraudulent advertising.

Objective 2: Enhance initiatives to tackle in-scope harms

  • Promote best practice and relevant industry initiatives that can help to minimise in-scope harms through communications and, where appropriate, public messaging;
  • Publish a progress report on the initiatives taken forward in the action plan to assess progress and suggest further improvements;
  • Update the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (introducing a duty regarding misleading advertising) in primary legislation;
  • Age-verification and age-estimation requirements for in-scope services to protect children from primary priority content on their service;
  • Evaluate the Intermediary and Platform Principles Pilot with a view to determining whether and, if so, how to formalise IPP into the ASA system regulatory framework;
  • Increase adoption of the IAB Gold Standard certification;
  • Introduce higher standards on age-restricted product ads for influencer marketing; and
  • Increase standards of age assurance for age-restricted advertising online.

This government says that the plan represents a collaborative effort between government and industry stakeholders, and will evolve through ongoing review and revision.

The Online Advertising Programme complements the Online Safety Act as well as changes being introduced via the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.