Social media companies and search engines will face new penalties for fraudulent ads

Social media sites and search engines will be legally required to prevent fraudulent ads from appearing on their platforms as part of new rules aimed at protecting people online.

The latest online safety bill will give regulators increased powers to crack down on harmful, offensive and misleading advertising.

It could also lead to stiffer penalties for influencers who fail to report payment for promoting products on their social media channels.

The latest changes to the bill follow calls from a coalition of 17 consumer and business groups last year for the government to include scams within the scope of the much-delayed bill.

In December, the joint committee set up to review the bill concluded that serious changes were needed to “call the hour on the Wild West online”. Peers and MPs said the bill, which was published last May, needs to be clearer about illegal content.

The latest additions are designed to improve the protection of internet users from the potentially devastating impact of fake advertising, including when criminals impersonate celebrities or companies to steal people’s personal data, peddle bad financial investments or break into in bank accounts.

Communications regulator Ofcom will check whether platforms have systems in place to prevent and remove false advertising. The watchdog could block services or impose a fine of up to £18million or 10% of annual turnover, the government has said.

In addition, a consultation is being launched on proposals aimed at strengthening the rules of the online advertising industry. This would regulate more of the major players involved and create a more transparent, accountable and safer advertising market.

Harmful or misleading advertisements, such as those promoting negative body images, and advertisements for illegal activities such as the sale of weapons, may be subject to stricter rules and penalties. Influencers who don’t say they get paid to promote products on social media could also face stiffer penalties.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “We want to protect people from online scams and have heard calls to strengthen our new internet safety laws. These changes in the upcoming online safety bill will help prevent scammers from scamming people out of their hard-earned money by using fake online advertisements.

“As technology increasingly revolutionizes our lives, the law must follow. Today we’re also announcing a review of broader rules around online advertising to ensure industry practices are accountable, transparent and ethical, so people can trust what they see advertising and distinguishing fact from fiction.

Anabel Hoult, Managing Director of Which?, added: “It’s great news that the government has listened to the stories we have shared from victims of scams and the wide range of organizations that have pushed for this change. . It could make a huge difference in stemming the tide of fake and fraudulent ads on social media and search engines that cause devastating financial and emotional damage to innocent victims.

“The Online Safety Bill must now ensure that the regulator has the support and resources it needs to hold companies to account and take strong enforcement action where necessary, to prevent fraudsters from using advertisements to lure unsuspecting victims.”

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Rosemary S. Bishop