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The ASA’s new Intermediary and Platform Principles Pilot

Published on 10 October 2022

The question

What does the launch of the ASA’s new voluntary pilot scheme mean for the interaction between digital platforms and online advertisers? 

The key takeaway

In what it is calling a “world first”, the ASA is running a voluntary year-long pilot during which digital platforms are encouraged to comply with six principles aimed at standardising the way in which advertisers who utilise their services comply with UK advertising regulation.

The background

The UK Government’s Online Advertising Programme (the OAP) is a scheme set to “review the regulatory framework of paid-for online advertising”. It reached its consultation stage in March 2022, with the closing date for responses in June 2022. The OAP heralds potentially significant changes to the regulatory framework for digital platforms. The UK’s advertising regulator, the ASA, will play a significant role in implementing any changes that the Government elects to introduce. Its first step was to launch the Intermediary and Platform Principles Pilot scheme in collaboration with IAB UK.

The development

With the aim of standardising how leading platforms within the AdTech space collaborate with the regulator, and to “explore formalising how [it] already work[s] with the world’s largest online players”, the ASA has published the Intermediary and Platform Principles (Principles). These are a set of six standards that “collaborating companies” (including Google, Meta, TikTok, and others) are encouraged to comply with. For now, adherence to the Principles is on a voluntary basis. However, there’s a strong chance that the Principles will become compulsory. That change could feasibly take place in June 2023, when the year-long pilot scheme, through which these principles have been introduced, reaches its conclusion.

The six Principles are as follows:

  1. Bring to advertisers’ (or their agencies’) attention that ads aimed at a UK audience must comply with the CAP code. This information should: be clearly worded; be prominent; be suitably located (eg at account registration, ad publication booking process); not suggest that compliance with the CAP code is voluntary; be more than a one-off notification (however, repeated notification is not expected, particularly in the case of more prolific advertisers); and include a hyperlink to the CAP Code. Note that targeted provision of information is encouraged (eg the requirement for ads relating to alcohol not to be directed at people under 18).
  2. Ensure that their advertising policies and applicable contractual terms state that ads aimed at a UK audience must comply with the CAP code. This information should: be clearly worded; and not suggest that compliance with the CAP code is voluntary.
  3. Assist the ASA in promoting the public’s and advertisers’ awareness of the ASA system, for instance by: raising awareness of the ASA amongst consumers, and/or raising awareness of CAP advice and training services amongst agencies; and/or partaking in joint campaigns with the ASA to raise awareness, distribute ASA and/or CAP guidance, distribute CAP enforcement notices, etc.
  4. To minimise children’s and young persons’ exposure to ads attracting an age targeting restriction under the CAP Code, use reasonable and appropriate measures to make advertisers aware of: the tools or controls available to them to help minimise children’s (under 16) and young persons’ (under 18) exposure to ads; who provides and/or selects those tools/controls; and who is responsible for activating and controlling those tools. Note that primary responsibility for compliance with age-targeting restrictions rests with the advertiser, not the digital platform.
  5. Swiftly remove non-compliant ads upon receipt of a notice from the CAP Compliance function, should the advertiser fail to amend or withdraw the ad. Note that there is no expectation that digital platforms must independently and proactively identify and remove non-compliant ads.
  6. Respond to reasonable requests for information from the ASA in a timely manner.

Why is this important?

As stated above, compliance with the six Principles is currently on a voluntary basis. However, in light of the OAP, it is possible, if not likely, that the Government will be pushing for them to become compulsory in the relatively near future. 

Any practical tips?

Paying close attention to the pilot scheme and the actions taken by participating companies makes good sense, especially given that significant changes to how platforms interact with advertisers feels like it is becoming a question of not if, but when, the Principles become compulsory.

Autumn 2022