Advertising watchdog signals tougher online regulation

Online advertising is to face tougher regulation to reflect the “pace of change” and consumers’ concerns, a watchdog has said.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said its new five-year strategy had a “clear focus and commitment” to strengthening the regulation of online ads.

It said the strategy was in response to businesses increasingly advertising online and consumers spending more time there, adding that the “pace of change online is contributing to people’s concerns”.

The regulator also said it would explore “lighter touch” ways for people to engage with it, such as removing the necessity of filling in its detailed complaints form and being able to flag concerns without expecting an investigation.

It also intended to back this up by picking up on potentially problematic ads as consumers responded to them, such as monitoring social media chatter.

The ASA said it would explore whether its processes and governance always allowed it to act nimbly in line with people’s expectations “of regulating an increasingly online advertising world”.

Last year 88% of the 7,099 ads amended or withdrawn following ASA action were online, either in whole or in part.

The number of ads withdrawn or changed last year were up 47% on 2016.

ASA chief executive Guy Parker said: “We’re a much more proactive regulator as a result of the work we’ve done in the last five years. In the next five, we want to have even more impact regulating online advertising.

“Online is already well over half of our regulation, but we’ve more work to do to take further steps towards our ambition of making every UK ad a responsible ad.”

ASA chairman Lord Currie said: “The new strategy will ensure that protecting consumers remains at the heart of what we do but that our system is also fit for purpose when regulating newer forms of advertising.

“This also means harnessing new technology to improve our ways of working in identifying problem ads.”