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The Online Safety Bill: The trade bodies react

Following yesterday’s announcement of the Online Advertising Programme Consultation and the inclusion of scam ads in the Online Safety Bill, we asked for reaction from the IAB and Advertising Association

Jon Mew, CEO, IAB UK said:

“As DCMS launches its consultation on the Online Advertising Programme (OAP) we welcome the opportunity to contribute to the development of a future regulatory framework for digital advertising through an evidence-led process that builds on the strong industry standards and initiatives already in place. 

“Together with government, regulators and law enforcement bodies, the UK digital advertising industry wants to play its part in restricting, detecting and disrupting scam ads. However, the regulatory coherence that we believe the OAP can deliver on this and other issues is undermined by provisions on ‘fraudulent advertising’ being added to the Online Safety Bill (OSB). The decision to duplicate the focus on scam ads across both programmes creates unnecessary regulatory fragmentation and risks constraining proper policy development. 

“To announce legislative changes on the same day as launching such a wide-ranging consultation on the sector undermines the purpose of the OAP and could pre-empt its outcomes. The Government has said that the OAP will aim to holistically review digital ad regulation and consider a range of potential policy responses. Today’s announcement makes that process more difficult.

“We are also concerned that the widened scope of the OSB has not been subject to industry consultation and that it could have unintended consequences for legitimate advertisers – particularly small businesses – if it is applied across the board. 

“The approach set out today seems at odds with the principles set out in the Government’s Plan for Digital Regulation, which emphasises the importance of drawing on industry expertise to develop effective regulation, and of a coherent and streamlined regulatory landscape.”

Stephen Woodford, Chief Executive, Advertising Association said:

“We welcome the publication today of the Online Advertising Programme and look forward to engaging in the comprehensive review the Government is undertaking of the regulatory and self-regulatory framework for online advertising.   

We note the Government has also updated the Online Safety Bill to include both scam advertising, as proposed by the Joint Committee, as well as fraudulent advertising.  

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. Any future policy choices must also be coherent with the Plan for Digital Regulation and its commitment to promoting innovation and driving growth. 

  We fully support 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. 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. Online ad spend in the UK is the highest relative to economy size anywhere in the world, as first identified in our report, Ad Pays 7: UK Advertising’s Digital Revolution. Advertising and its online ecosystem is an essential engine for our country’s GDP, providing a lifeline for businesses, large and small, to carry on serving customers, even during the toughest of lockdown conditions. 

We are proud too 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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