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ASA extends tentacles online

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The Advertising Standards Authority is to take responsibility for more online content, not just the paid-for advertisements it currently regulates.

The ASA already covers content like banner adverts, pop-ups and paid-for search terms. From 1 March 2011 the new ASA rules cover content hosted by companies themselves, such as their own websites.

From 2008 to 2009 the ASA rejected 3,500 complaints about websites because they fell outside its remit. In 2009 the body received just short of 30,000 complaints.

The ad watchdog will also consider user-generated content under some circumstances - if companies solicit such content then use it as a marketing tool, or if such material is given over unsolicited and then used by the company for marketing purposes.

The decision to extend the Committee of Advertising Practice Code was taken in response to an industry-wide formal recommendation.

Some material will remain outside the remit of the ASA. This includes press releases and PR material, classified adverts, political adverts, editorial content and corporate reports.

Investor relations material is now explicitly excluded, as is "heritage advertising" - old adverts which might not comply with ASA rules but are not part of current promotional campaigns - like "Guinness is good for you", we guess.

All this will be paid for by levying a 0.1 per cent levy on paid-for adverts appearing on search engines. This will be kick-started by seed capital from Google.

The ASA gets two new powers to go with its new remit. It can ask search engines to remove links to non-compliant pages and may place its own paid-for adverts to highlight a company's failure to comply.

The ASA press release is here. ®

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