This would involve a co-regulation arrangement in which the statutory regulator could delegate the writing and maintenance of codes to the industry self-regulator, with sign off required for any code changes. In the case of a statutory regulator backstopping the self-regulatory code, stronger regulatory powers would likely only be applied in certain circumstances, for example to repeat offenders or those involved in disseminating illegal harms such as fraud. With limited independent verification due to walled garden operation models, advertisers have limited means beyond the data shared with them to understand how successful their campaigns have been, meaning tech companies may oversell figures in order to retain an investment. Our aim through the OAP is to design a regulatory framework for online advertising that will be robust enough to respond to the spectrum of harms presented above. We are keen to explore measures, enforcement tools and options for regulatory reform that would address all advertising harms by addressing the underlying drivers of harm, with a specific focus on addressing the highest risk consumer harms. We envisage a system-wide approach that will be sufficiently flexible to future-proof against developments, and which reflects the amount of control the different actor may have over content – rather than bring forward individual measures for each type of content.

Within this, the government specifically committed to help keep the UK safe and secure online. This means that citizens are empowered to be safe online, and can trust they are protected from online harms beyond their control, and that consumers can trust that they are treated fairly, and have choice over the services they access. At present, online advertising is not subject to the same level of regulation as other media such as TV and radio.

These measures will hold those in the supply chain accountable for their data gathering and will empower consumers to exercise control over their information rights. Nonetheless, in general advertisers rely on other parties in the system to place their advertising. Beyond specifying the types of audience and media they would like the advertising to be targeted at, they do not have full control and are in practice reliant on the wider supply chain to meet their targeting expectations. It is also the case that ‘bad actors, for example individuals or enterprises who are looking to disseminate illegal or other purposefully harmful content, will not be motivated to ​​comply with the ​​directions of the ASA or the self-regulatory sanctions it may deploy. Intermediaries and online platforms do have certain obligations under consumer law – for example, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations apply to platform operators where they act as traders and are engaged in commercial practices .

Measure Assessment of benefit Assessment of impact Transparency measures Record keeping Requiring records to be kept in a standardised format to enable audit by regulator if suspected to be in breach of codes. This could include records on campaign objectives, KPIs, and targeting instructions, as well as campaign delivery reports from suppliers. Such a measure would look to have an impact on harms related to the targeting of vulnerable people. Any record keeping expectations would need to be proportionate to the size and scale of the organisations involved.

Record keeping and self-declaration do not necessarily relate to illegal harms but would likely necessitate stronger powers of enforcement than those that currently exist under the self-regulatory framework to ensure compliance and effectiveness across all advertisers. We are exploring the possibilities of a systems and processes approach for these actors, which would complement current responsibilities on advertisers, creating clear roles and responsibilities across the online advertising supply chain. These processes would – for platforms and intermediaries – address the lack of incentives to share data, check who is advertising, and monitor for problematic content. This would help to identify bad actors and allow legitimate advertisers to have better oversight over where their money is being spent and to whom their content is ultimately served. This approach should also allow for flexibility within the regulatory framework so that it does not become quickly out-dated and unable to keep pace with the ever-evolving online ecosystem. Companies in scope of the OSB will need to apply their systems and processes to protect users from harm to this type of content.

Our range of options varies from the current self-regulatory framework to more interventionist solutions that would involve introducing legislation and a statutory regulator for online advertising. Some organisations may be able to better accommodate new regulatory burdens than others, and we will need to consider carefully where any new obligations may be best placed given the varying levels of capability and capacity across the supply chain – and to avoid duplication of effort. For example, we might reasonably expect larger advertising-funded platforms which run ‘owned and operated’ systems to do significantly more than what we might expect of a smaller SSP or DSP with less capacity to act. We will also consider the cost to industry of implementing any additional regulatory requirements, so these can be compared against the objective of achieving significant overall benefits to consumers and businesses from a reduction in harms and increased trust in online advertising. Measures suggested for publishers include record keeping, minimum standards for proactive review of content and threats, and customer empowerment tools. Due to the different concerns that relate to some publishers (e.g. freedom and sustainability of the press), a self-regulatory framework as outlined in option 1 would likely be most appropriate.

This inconsistency in working arrangements arises as much through circumstance as through the absence, to date, of a concerted and collective effort to standardise ASA expectations on these businesses. The UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (the ‘CAP Code’), which sets the standards for non-broadcast advertising, sales and direct marketing communications. Generally the term ‘ad fraud’ refers to fraudulently representing advertising services that are either not delivered or delivered incorrectly. Essentially, it means that the advert is not properly delivered to the intended audience or location. Technological innovation enables advertisers to target consumers with a high degree of specificity, for example, by perceived interests, age, salary or gender.