ASA uses child avatars to tackle irresponsible gambling ads targeted at children

Published on 05 July 2019

How has the ASA’s introduction of new technology, such as child avatars, impacted on ad monitoring and enforcement?

The background

On 20 May 2019, Guy Parker, the chief executive of the ASA, outlined that the ASA’s “new five year strategy is focused on strengthening further the regulation of online advertising and using new tech to protect the public”. To that end, the ASA has introduced new technology in the form of “child avatars” which mimic children’s online behaviour, in order to monitor the types of ads that children are prone to see online. 

The development

The ASA, with the assistance of a data and analytics company, formulated seven online avatars which simulated the behaviour (on non-logged-in-environments) of children of varying ages, an adult, and a child and an adult using the same device.

As a result of these avatars, the ASA has announced that it had banned ads from five gambling operators whose ads were served to the child avatars. During a two week period where the ads were monitored, the ASA found that out of 24 children’s websites monitored, 11 showed gambling ads.

The bookmakers responsible for the ads have accepted that their ads should not have been available to children on those sites, but sought to place responsibility onto third parties who had wrongly placed the ads on behalf of the gambling operators. The ASA has informed these companies that they must review the placement of their ads and take appropriate measures to make sure the mistake is not repeated.

Due to the successful outcome of the monitoring through avatars, the ASA is currently exploring whether these measures can be extended to logged-in environments such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and extended to the monitoring of other age-restricted advertising, such as for HFSS products and alcohol. In addition, the ASA, in its annual report, confirmed that it has “established a team of digital specialists” and is also determining how other new technologies can help the ASA protect the public. 

Why is this important?

The use of new technology will enable the ASA to be pro-active in taking action against irresponsible ads as they will be able to ban ads without there having to be a complaint from a member of the public. Further, as shown by the action taken against the gambling operators, the ability to view which ads children can see online will facilitate the ASA to take swift action against the responsible parties.

Any practical tips?

Make sure your business or any company which your business uses to place your ad takes sufficient measures to keep ads from being directed at children.

Even if the ad is not offensive and is therefore unlikely to attract a complaint, particularly if it is only likely to be seen by a child, the introduction of avatars means that no, wrongly placed ad is safe from the watching eyes of the ASA’s avatar operators!

Stay connected and subscribe to our latest insights and views 

Subscribe Here