UK introduces new rules crack down on illegal ads and protect children

new rules-Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

New rules designed to crack down on illegal advertising and to protect children online have been introduced by the UK Government.

The plans are published today by the government in response to its Online Advertising Programme.

Online advertising includes the banners or displays which appear around the content of a website, results prioritised at the top of search engines, and pop-ups on a user’s screen.

It helps businesses grow by reaching targeted audiences and can be cheaper and quicker than traditional advertising formats.

Last year it accounted for three quarters (£26.1 billion) of the £34.8 billion spent on advertising in the UK.

Its rapid development, combined with changes in technology and complex supply chains between marketers and platforms, make it difficult to stop illegal ads appearing.

Fake celebrity scams and pop-up malware from hackers will also be clamped down on as part of new rules to make advertising regulation fit for the digital age.

Social media platforms, websites and services like advertising display networks will have to take tougher action to stop children seeing age-restricted adverts for products like alcohol or gambling.

Fake celebrity scams and pop-up malware from hackers will also be clamped down on as part of new rules to make advertising regulation fit for the digital age.

People frequently encounter fraudulent celebrity endorsements for financial scams, legitimate-looking pop-ups containing hidden malware, and promotions for products prohibited under UK law – such as weapons, drugs, counterfeit fashion and fake ticketing.

Children can be exposed to ads for age-restricted products such as alcohol, gambling and adult-rated films and games.

Creative Industries Minister Sir John Whittingdale said: “Advertising is a huge industry in which Britain is a world leader. However, as online advertising has taken a steadily bigger share, the rules governing it have not kept pace and so we intend to strengthen them to ensure consumers are properly protected.

“Our plans will shut down the scammers using online adverts to con people out of their cash and will stop damaging and inappropriate products being targeted at children.

“We will make sure that our proposed regulation helps keep people safe while supporting and enhancing the legitimate advertising industry so it can maximise its innovation and potential.”

There is currently a self-regulatory system for the content and placement of online adverts in the UK, overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The ASA has a strong record of delivering consistent, effective results and holding legitimate advertisers accountable.

However regulators are not empowered to act to address illegal harms in the same way as harmful advertising by legitimate businesses.

The government intends to introduce new rules to tackle illegal paid-for online adverts and increase protections for children.

A range of targeted legislative and non-legislative measures will address the most serious risks linked to online advertising.

This approach complements the Online Safety Bill, which is targeted at user generated content, and will build on measures tackling fraudulent advertising in that legislation.

The new statutory regulation will put more responsibilities on major players across the online advertising supply chain.

IAB responds

Commenting on the government’s new plan, Jon Mew, CEO, of advertising industry group the IAB UK, said: “Demonstrating the strength of existing industry-led regulation sat at the heart of IAB UK’s response to the Online Advertising Programme consultation and we are pleased that the Government has today recognised the valuable role this plays in protecting consumers and businesses.

“We have also consistently argued for the next phase of the OAP to concentrate on areas of highest risk and to facilitate joint working with industry to address these challenges.

“We therefore welcome the Government’s commitment to a collaborative, evidence-led approach – focused on protecting children and tackling illegal advertising – and we look forward to participating in the new Online Advertising Taskforce.

“However, we remain concerned that the Government is prematurely pursuing a legislative response before it has fully explored other regulatory solutions.

“Our priority now is ensuring that any proposals are proportionate and justified in their nature, scale and scope.

“In parallel, there need to be renewed efforts from Government to enforce existing laws against illegal actors.


As well as online publishers, apps and websites serving ads, ‘adtech’ intermediary services which facilitate the placement and distribution of online adverts will be in scope.

Promotional posts by social media influencers where they receive payment or free products will also be covered.

Social media firms, search engines and other websites will be required by law to have proportionate systems and processes to stop people being served illegal adverts, and prevent under-18s seeing adverts for products and services illegal to be sold to them.

This will improve safety, transparency and consumer trust by introducing more effective action while supporting industry growth.

In due course, the government will launch a further consultation on the details of potential legislation – including its preferred choice for a regulator to oversee the new illegal paid-for advertising rules.

New legislation would not affect the ASA’s remit for the content and placement of legitimate paid-for advertising online.

New taskforce

Ministers will this week convene a new taskforce to gather more evidence around illegal advertising and build on industry initiatives to tackle harms and increase protections for children before the legislation is introduced.

The taskforce will be chaired by Creative Industries Minister John Whittingdale and Mark Lund, the chair of the Advertising Standards Board of Finance and former president of McCann UK and Europe.

The group will include representatives from across the advertising industry, including the ASA, as well as tech trade bodies, consumer groups and the government’s Anti-Fraud Champion, Anthony Browne.

Mark Lund, chair of The Advertising Standards Board of Finance and deputy chair of the Online Advertising Taskforce, said: