UK Regulator to Expand Supervision Over Online Ads

The U.K.'s advertising regulator will increase its oversight of online marketing, scrutinizing how companies advertise on their own Web sites as well as social sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said on Wednesday that the new code, which will take effect starting next March, is in response to nearly 3,000 complaints in the last year over advertisements that were not within its purview to act on.

The ASA already oversees paid-for online advertisements and sales promotions, investigating complaints over misleading advertisements and other issues, such as social responsibility and child protection. In some cases, advertisements have been withdrawn or removed by search engines, said Matt Wilson, ASA press officer.

For advertisements that are not withdrawn, the ASA has worked with search engines to publish a notification next to the ad that there is a problem with it, Wilson said.

The new rules will cover companies or organizations running promotions in unpaid space, including their own Web sites and social-networking sites. Companies are increasingly using platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to draw people to their brands or causes.

The ASA said that assessing whether material constitutes advertising or marketing communication will require a "careful assessment."

User-generated content, for example, is created by private individuals, the ASA said in its guidance notes. But if a website owner solicited the content and used it in marketing material, it would be subject to the code. Even if a private individual provided unsolicited content that is incorporated into marketing material, that would also be subject.

The code will apply to companies and organizations that have a U.K. presence or a U.K. registered website, Wilson said.

Advertisements targeting the U.K but placed outside the country "are subject to the jurisdiction of the relevant authority in the country from which they originate if that authority operates a suitable cross-border complaint system," the ASA said.

The initiative will be funded by a 0.1 percent levy on paid-for advertisements appearing on Internet search engines through media and search agencies. The ASA, which has a £7 million (US$11 million) annual budget, will have to add 9 or 10 staffers to enforce compliance, Wilson said.

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