Online Advertising Programme consultation

News article

Views sought on programme to review the regulatory framework of paid-for online advertising to ensure transparency and accountability

The UK government has launched a public consultation on its Online Advertising Programme (OAP).

With the growth in internet consumption, advertising has become the primary source of revenue for many online businesses and underpins the provision of key online services such as search and social media.

The content and placement of online advertisements is currently overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) under a system of self-regulation. But rapid technological developments have transformed the scale and complexity of online advertising leading to an increase in consumer harm.

Adverts seeking to defraud such as investment scams and promotions for fraudulent products and services including fake ticketing, which in many cases involves fake celebrity endorsement, have proliferated online.

People are also being targeted through legitimate-looking adverts that contain hidden malware. When clicked on they allow hackers to commit malicious cyber security attacks such as ‘cryptojacking’ - the unauthorised use of people’s devices to mine for cryptocurrency.

Elsewhere there is evidence of online adverts selling items prohibited in UK law, such as prescription medicines and counterfeit fashion, misleading adverts misrepresenting the product or service they offer, and influencers failing to reveal sponsorship arrangements with companies in their posts.

The programme will look at the current regulations and regulators including whether they are properly empowered and funded. It will consider the whole supply chain and whether those within it should do more to combat harmful advertising, including ad-funded platforms such as Meta, Snap, Twitter and Tik Tok and intermediaries such as Google, TheTradeDesk and AppNexus.

Options include strengthening the current self-regulation approach or creating a new statutory regulator with tough enforcement powers including:

  • Rule-making powers such as setting mandatory codes of conduct and enforcing them with fines and the ability to block and ban advertisers which repeatedly break the rules.
  • Increased scrutiny across the supply chain related to high-risk advertising such as the promotion of products related to alcohol or weight loss. Companies could be required to demonstrate they are taking care to protect users - for example avoiding targeting vulnerable groups.
  • Increased scrutiny of advertisers which repeatedly breach codes of conduct and more checks on firms and individuals placing adverts and buying ad space. This could include requiring third-party intermediaries or platforms to make advertisers self declare an interest in placing high-risk advertising such as age restricted ads.
  • Information gathering and investigatory powers such as the power to audit and request transparency reports from companies and request data from them.

The closing date for responses is 11:45pm on Wednesday 8 June 2022.

Find out more about the Online Advertising Programme and how to respond to the consultation.

First published 25 April 2022