UK confirms scam ad action and opens online ad review

scam branson and lewis 2The UK marketing and advertising industry has backed changes to the Government’s Online Safety Bill, which mean scam ads appearing on social media platforms and search engines, are to be included in the new regulation.

The move has also been supported by founder Martin Lewis, who, along with Richard Branson, features in thousands of scam ads. It coincides with the publication of the Online Advertising Programme, a comprehensive review of the regulatory and self-regulatory framework for online ads.

Paid-for scam and fraudulent advertising had been previously omitted from the Bill, but in December a cross-party group of MPs and Lords claimed its exclusion would “obstruct the Government’s stated aim of tackling online fraud”. They added that a lack of online regulation had left too many people vulnerable to abuse, fraud, violence and, in some cases, the loss of life.

Lewis had teamed up with a host of other charities, agencies and trade bodies to push for the inclusion of scams ads in the Bill, though it appears display advertising, which you often see on third party websites, is still not within the scope of the Bill.

Lewis said: “I am thankful the Government has listened to me and the huge numbers of other campaigners – across banks, insurers, consumer groups, charities, police and regulators – who’ve been desperate to ensure scam adverts are covered by the Online Safety Bill.

“We are amidst an epidemic of scam adverts. Scams don’t just destroy people’s finances – they hit their self-esteem, mental health and even leave some considering taking their own lives.

“The Bill is complex. We need to analyse and scrutinise this update – one of my concerns is it looks like display advertising that you see on third party websites is not within the scope of the Bill when it comes to scam adverts. But, overall, the big picture is that this is good news and we need to work with Government, Parliament and all the other campaigners and experts to close down the hiding places or gaps scammers can exploit.”

Advertising Association chief executive Stephen Woodford commented: “Whilst bad actors indeed need to be dealt with through appropriate enforcement, the Online Safety Bill now seems to be widening its scope on the same day as the Online Advertising Programme is published, promising a comprehensive review of online advertising and the way it is regulated.

“This legislation will have significant implications for all relevant stakeholders and needs to be considered very carefully.

“Our online advertising ecosystem will thrive on a strong internet infrastructure which needs to be resilient to cyber or malicious attacks. To that end, the Government has a vital role to play in increasing national cyber awareness and providing a strong enforcement system.”

While the AA fully supports the Government’s aim of making the UK the safest place to go online while ensuring it is the best place in the world to do business online too, Woodford says it is important to recognise the UK has the world’s most advanced digital advertising marketplace and a healthy advertising eco-system is integral to funding a free and open Internet.

Woodford concluded: “We are proud that the UK has a gold-standard self-regulatory system encompassing the CAP Code, IAB Gold Standard, TAG, Global Alliance for Responsible Media, the Financial Audit Toolkit and robust industry standards and deliver a multi-faceted framework to regulate online advertising.

“New initiatives will further enhance this framework including ISBA’s Origin trial and TAG Trustnet.
“It is vital any future regulation considered during this consultation is proportionate and complements the existing framework. Any additional regulation should seek to protect consumers and prosecute bad actors, whilst enabling the UK to remain at the forefront of the digital economy.”

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