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The Future Of Online Advertising Regulation

Posted by Kyle Redman on 16-Mar-2023 14:15:00 | 4 Minute Read

The world of online advertising often incites discussion on the ethical and legal responsibilities that said advertisers should uphold. We are at a pivotal point in online advertising, with lots of challenges being presented through current and upcoming technologies – the metaverse, crypto, NFTs, etc.

Westminster eForum’s recent conference focused on the next steps for regulations governing the online advertising industry within the UK, discussing priorities for the sector, its customers, and the public. I was keen to attend this event to gain further insight into how the UK’s regulatory bodies are operating to ensure a safer, fairer, and more transparent online advertising space. Here are a few key takeaways from the session which will either provoke thought or provide insight on the landscape of online advertising regulation:

Digital advertisement on mobile device held in lap

Cookie Banners In Online Advertising

Stephen Almond, Director of Technology and Innovation at ICO, spoke about how the current system of pop-up cookie banners “isn’t working”, touching on the cost for their setup and maintenance, lack of clarity, and their repetitive nature causing annoyances for both users and businesses alike.

One alternative approach which has been called for by the ICO, is for a transition to a browser-based cookie method, whereby users can participate in a web-wide set and forget system, allowing users to set their preferences once and then all subsequent website visits will respect these choices, without presenting the user with another banner to navigate every time a new site is visited. Whilst these changes would require a mass shift in both legislation and technology, the government's re-introduction of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill would create the building blocks for these changes to occur.

Collecting & Using Data Responsibly

Paid for Online advertising helps businesses reach new audiences and allows consumers to discover new products/services. It’s at the heart of all our online activities, and data points are everywhere – even in the offline world. But imagine a scenario where offline advertisements (billboards, posters, etc.) act in a similar manner to the digital landscape, and profiled based on your actions and interests.

Online Advertising & Ethics

We were presented with the example of someone struggling with a gambling addiction who just visited a betting shop and, within minutes of leaving, all the billboards they see in the street immediately change to gambling related advertisements. This would not only be hazardous to its audience, in both content and placement but also extremely unethical as the advertisers have a duty to use their data responsibly.

This scenario shouldn’t exist in the offline world, so there shouldn’t be a place for it in digital advertising either. Guy Parker, CEO of the Advertising Standards Authority, stated that more than 1.6 million children are over-reporting their age on social media accounts. This statistic truly emphasises the responsibility that online advertisers shoulder and the consideration that must take place prior to collecting and using data, remembering that “just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should”.

The IAB Gold Standard

The UK advertising industry operates on a self-regulation system. This system works because it is primarily driven by a sense of corporate social responsibility – advertisers strive to uphold this digital advertising self-regulation as it is cost-effective, helps maintain trust amongst consumers, and creates a fair playing field amongst competitors.

IAB UK CEO, Jon Mew, spoke about the IAB Gold Standard and how self-regulation is working but isn’t sufficient in all areas and an official online safety bill could help to further standardise the industry and protect audiences. The Gold Standard is a certification for buyers and sellers of digital media which aims to tackle issues such as ad fraud, upholding brand safety, data protection and aiding in compliance with the GDPR and ePrivacy laws. Brands don’t want their ads to be displayed next to potential fraud, insensitive content, etc. and so the Gold Standard aims to create trust and instil confidence amongst buyers and sellers by signalling that industry standards have been adhered to.

IAB Gold Standard Logo

AI – For Better, or for Worse?

Artificial Intelligence technology has grown rapidly in the past few years. The ability to provide a prompt which can, in turn, supply you with a written piece of content, or an image, is now widely accessible, and prompt-writing is becoming a new skill in itself.

The issue with AI-generated content is that, currently, any written work it provides can be outdated or factually incorrect, and it will be confident in its delivery of such content. This can often lead to content being published by parties with a lack of knowledge in certain areas, which can result in misleading consumers. Additionally, another social issue caused by AI is the rise of filters - users now have the ability to alter their appearance in seconds without disclosure. This further contributes to the blurring of lines between reality and can warp user perceptions, raising ethical questions around body image etc.

The power of AI is however being used for good in the online advertising regulation space. One increasingly common issue is the lack of #ad disclosures on influencer posts, especially as more fringe cases become apparent where it is unclear to users whether this disclosure is needed or not. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is utilising machine learning algorithms to identify social posts which may contain unlabelled ads, so they can be reviewed and amended as needed.

To Conclude

The online advertising ecosystem is changing every day, and new innovations are creating value for the industry constantly. But as new technologies come to the forefront, governance and regulation must also progress in order to maintain safety and sustainability.

By attending this event, Innovation Visual is ensuring that our paid search experts are remaining at the cutting edge of industry evolution and can leverage that learning to the benefit of our clients.

The Westminster eForum discussion on the future of online advertising regulation offered valuable insight into the current pain points of the industry, and how they are going to be moderated moving forward. We all share a responsibility to create a safe and trusting digital landscape, and so maintaining an understanding of the predominant issues in the space can lead to a healthier and safer industry, for all parties. If you'd like help with building an effective, compliant and ethical structure and strategy for your online advertising programme, we can help. Why not get in touch?

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