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New ASA boss targets bogus web sites

Advertiser websites in his sights

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The new boss of the advertising watchdog has said bogus web adverts and websites need better regulation and conceded that current rules are not far-reaching enough.

Lord Chris Smith, in his first day as chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), said he wanted to respond to growing public concern over misleading claims by internet adverts.

The ASA's remit only covers paid-for media placements but the vast majority of complaints are about advertisers's websites rather than actual ads.

This means that claims made on an advertisers' website are deemed editorial content and effectively pass under the regulator's radar.

Former culture secretary Smith was speaking in today's Financial Times about the frustrations faced by web users being misled by commercial claims.

Smith said: "Progress is slow, and public concern is rising.

"If I were a benevolent dictator (I would say) probably: 'No, this is not a quick enough pace'."

As we reported in April, complaints about online ads have risen by a massive 33 per cent. Yet, despite the explosion in dubious web-based ads, the ASA has little power to intervene.

Much of the problem relates to the fact that many trade bodies operating on the internet have not signed up to the ASA's voluntary code of conduct, making online regulatory responsibility unclear.

According to the FT, industry insiders expect Smith will push for some form of internet agreement across the advertising sector.

Smith said: "The ASA can't go wading in with heavy boots and dictating to anyone...What I certainly want to do over the course of the next few months is to have a discussion with the industry about whether we can move forward.

"From all the things that it tells us, the public views websites as effectively advertising tools for a company or organisation. It would like to have some kind of reassurance about what is said on those sites. The ASA can potentially help with that." ®

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