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The ASA’s new UK Scam Alert System

Published on 02 November 2020

What is the latest tool in the ASA’s technology toolbox to combat misleading advertising online?

The key takeaway

The ASA is continuing to build its technological capabilities, this time with its new UK Scam Alert System. This aims to identify and remove paid-for scam ads by working in collaboration with the leading digital advertising and social media platforms.

The background

As part of its five-year strategy, launched in November 2018, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) committed to escalate the regulation of online ads and to use new innovative technology such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to proactively seek out and take enforcement measures against advertisers whose ads may be in breach of the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (the Code). The strategy also aims to encourage industry collaboration and the use of online platforms in order to maintain advertising standards.

One area that has historically been a point of regulatory focus and contention is bogus ads that leave consumers out of pocket. In addition, specific concerns have recently been raised about online paid-for ads which link to fraudulent content, particularly with the increased popularity of cryptocurrency investment and advertising. The Financial Conduct Authority and Action Fraud have estimated that over £27m had been lost in 2018/19 by victims of cryptocurrency and forex related investment scams.

The update

In line with the ASA’s recent emphasis on using technology to strictly regulate and monitor online advertising, it has now launched a UK Scam Alert System, in collaboration with the leading digital advertising and social media platforms (including Facebook and Google). This system will be used to identify and take down paid-for scam ads across various platforms.

How will this work?

The UK Scam Alert System works in three main phases:

  • Report – consumers will now be able to report online scam ads on multiple platforms. This will include paid-for search engine ads, ads featuring on social media and those appearing on newspaper websites.
  • Notify – in response, the ASA promises to promptly notify all participating platforms and publishers and provide them with key details of the offending ad.
  • Remove and block finally, partners will then seek to locate and remove the ads as well as suspend the advertiser’s account. In some circumstances, partners will consider adding these accounts to cross-platform blocklists which could prevent them from appearing in the future.

Why is this important?

The launch of the UK Scam Alert System is the latest in a line of measures by the ASA aimed at using technology to strictly regulate and monitor online advertising. The ASA has previously used child avatars which simulate children’s online behaviour to be able to identify ads that do not comply with rules on age restrictions in sectors such as alcohol, gambling and food.

As of January 2020, the ASA has also been using monitoring technology to find, identify and remove posts which promote botox to UK consumers on social media platforms. In similar fashion to the UK Scam Alert System, this technology has the ability to track issues in social media posts and recognise specific posts as being potentially non-compliant. These problematic posts may then be flagged for removal as part of a coordinated effort with Facebook. An enforcement notice was sent to more than 130,000 practitioners and, in the first quarter of monitoring, over 12,000 posts were removed.

These latest measures are a continuation of the ASA’s policy of regulation through the use of technology and collaborations with online platforms. This strategy, as outlined in the ASA’s 2019 Annual Report, is underpinned by contemporary social issues such as child protection, mental wellbeing and gender presentation. We are likely to see further use of artificial intelligence and machine learning in the regulation of advertising as the ASA attempts to strengthen its capabilities and ensure that the rules and regulations are properly adhered to.


Autumn 2020