DCMS seeks evidence on regulation of online advertising

January 28, 2020

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has issued a call for evidence on online advertising. In February 2019, it announced that it will consider how online advertising is regulated. The DCMS’s aim is to foster fair, accountable and ethical online advertising that works for citizens, businesses and society as a whole.

In particular, the DCMS wants to:

  • ensure standards about the placement and content of advertising can be effectively applied and enforced online so that consumers have limited exposure to harmful or misleading advertising;
  • promote a competitive and fair online advertising market for businesses so that all businesses can compete on merit; and
  • drive transparent and ethical targeting practices for advertising online so that consumers are informed, empowered and can have trust in online advertising.

The call for evidence is focused on the first of these three points. Rules around advertising for specific types of content (such as alcohol and gambling) are out of scope of the call for evidence, likewise political advertising. Work on electoral integrity and transparency is being carried out by the Cabinet Office.  

The government is aware of the online advertising market study being carried out by the Competition and Markets Authority and does not seek to duplicate this work.

The questions covered in the call for evidence relate to the benefits and challenges of online advertising.  

The main part of the call for evidence covers the existing system of oversight and regulation. The government asks the following questions:

  • To what extent consumers are exposed to harm by the content and placement of online advertising?
  • How effective is the current governance and regulatory system for online advertising in the UK ?
  • What gaps exits in the current regulatory system and compliance with it?
  • What issues are dealt with effectively – including brand safety, ad fraud and reliable indicators of viewability – and what further role government could play?
  • How effective the current regulatory system is at preventing instances of the exploitation of vulnerabilities/vulnerable people, manipulation, or discrimination through the use of targeting (whether direct or indirect)?

The government also asks for views on the differences in the way that broadcast and non-broadcast advertising, including online advertising, is regulated and the effect of the those differences.

Finally, the call for evidence asks what further action should be taken as well as the government’s future role.

The call for evidence ends on 23 March 2020. The government aims to publish a summary of relevant evidence as part of a formal consultation later in 2020.