The Advertising Standards Authority and the online platforms it oversees are in an “arms race” against scammers, with the regulator receiving over 1,100 reports and sending over 100 alerts since June, when it launched the Scam Ad Alert system.
In an interview with PoliticsHome, ASA chair Lord David Currie, said the organisation was deploying tech-assisted monitoring and enforcement as well as data science to create algorithms which can detect scam ads with a high degree of accuracy.
The move has led to a significant 346% increase in ads being amended or withdrawn as a result of ASA intervention, to a total 36,491 in 2020.
Lord Currie said: “We need to use tech to keep up in this world. It’s growing so fast. We have to rely on tech to advance what we’re doing. By doing this work, and by doing it regularly, people know we’re doing it and therefore there’s quite a deterrent effect.
“It’s a very powerful tool that is being emulated by other regulators around the world because we were the pioneers in this.”
But Currie warned that online scammers are using advanced technologies to evade the ASA’s monitoring programmes. “There is a technical issue there which we are working to overcome, which is that these scammers and these scam ads are themselves very sophisticated.
“The people working for the scammers are every bit as sophisticated as the people working for the tech companies themselves. And they probably paid at least as much if not more, because it is a very lucrative business.”
Scammers are able to engage in “cloaking”, where they identify if the profile accessing their platform is a person or a bot, with the aim of serving a less harmful ad to the latter.
“Getting around that sort of thing requires more tech on our side to fight it. It’s a very good example of the way we need to fight tech with tech.
“It is an arms race, effectively. And we need to make sure we have enough resources to keep up in the arms race.”
The Scam Ad Alert system was launched in June 2020 after a successful three-month trial. It allows complaints to be quickly shared with online ad networks to facilitate their swift removal, as well as preventing similar ads from appearing.
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