Insights Government launches consultation on proposed Online Advertising Programme


The Government’s Online Advertising Programme (OAP) proposes to tighten the rules for the online advertising industry. It will review the regulatory framework of paid-for online advertising in order to tackle the evident lack of transparency and accountability across the whole supply chain. It will consider how industry and government can build on the existing self-regulatory framework, by strengthening the mechanisms currently in place and under development, to enable regulators meet the challenges of the online sphere, whilst maintaining a pro-innovation and proportionate approach to digital regulation.

The review will work in conjunction with the measures being introduced through the forthcoming Online Safety Bill (see item under Internet), as well as those the Government is developing to address competition and data protection issues across the online landscape.

Seeking to complement the online safety legislation being implemented to regulate user-generated content, the Online Advertising Programme will look specifically at paid-for online advertising to ensure holistic cover for all online content that has the potential to cause harm to consumers and businesses.

Harmful or misleading adverts, such as: (i) adverts that promote negative body images; (ii) adverts for illegal activities such as weapons sales; (iii) adverts seeking to defraud, such as investment scams and promotions for fraudulent products and services, including fake ticketing; (iv) adverts that look legitimate but contain hidden malware, e.g., “cryptojacking”; and (v) adverts that sell items prohibited by law, such as prescription medicines and counterfeit goods, could be subject to tougher rules and sanctions. Influencers failing to declare they are being paid to promote products on social media could also be subject to stronger penalties.

Options under the OAP include strengthening the current self-regulation approach or creating a new statutory regulator with tough enforcement powers including:

  • rule-making powers, such as setting mandatory codes of conduct and enforcing them with fines and the ability to block and ban advertisers which repeatedly break the rules;
  • increased scrutiny across the supply chain related to high-risk advertising such as the promotion of products related to alcohol or weight loss; companies could be required to demonstrate they are taking care to protect users, e.g., avoiding targeting vulnerable groups;
  • increased scrutiny of advertisers who repeatedly breach codes of conduct and more checks on firms and individuals placing adverts and buying ad space; this could include requiring third-party intermediaries or platforms to make advertisers declare an interest in placing high-risk advertising such as age restricted ads; and
  • information-gathering and investigatory powers such as the power to audit and request transparency reports from companies and request data from them.

The consultation closes on 1 June 2022. To access the consultation, click here.