Paid advertising still not covered by online safety bill

Consumer Watchdog Which? reiterated its call on the UK government to tackle fraudulent paid advertising in the next online safety bill, after finding that social media platforms and search engines are failing to protect adequately their users against scams.

Research conducted by Which? found that around nine million people – or 17% of those who responded to its nationally representative survey – had been targeted by a social media scam, with only one in five consumers feeling protected online .

It also found that four in 10 (43%) were dissatisfied with the protection against scams provided by social media platforms and search engines – higher than dissatisfaction with the protection offered by the government (39%), email providers (33%), business telecommunications (31%) and online marketplaces (29%).

The survey also revealed that people had seen or been targeted by a scam via emails (58%), texts (53%) and calls (47%). Around one in six people (17%) say they have seen or been the target of a scam on social networks, compared to one in seven (14%) for merchant sites and one in 10 (10%) for search engines. research.

In total, just under eight in 10 people (79%) said they had seen or been the target of an online scam. Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that fraud has increased by 36% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

According to Which?, one victim – a 75-year-old woman – lost over £30,000 in 2020 to a potential cryptocurrency scam, after being tricked by a third-party advert on Facebook which featured fabricated quotes by Deborah Meaden of Dragon’s Den.

After clicking on it, she was directed to an online form to enter her personal information and immediately received a phone call from a representative of the relevant company. Since the ad was on a site she trusted and apparently endorsed by a well-known TV personality, the woman thought it was legit.

“I lost all my life savings and had to take equity out of my home. It has been very stressful. I urge Facebook to be more vigilant and vet all companies allowed to advertise,” she told Which?.

Reply to Who? results, a Meta spokesperson said, “Scammers use multiple online and offline methods to exploit people, including fake phone calls and text messages, phishing emails, and fraudulent online advertisements. We are devoting significant resources to addressing this industry-wide issue on and off our platforms.

“To combat this, we work not only to detect and reject fraudulent advertisements on our services, but also to block advertisers and, in some cases, take them to court. While no app is perfect, we continue to invest in new technologies and methods to protect people on our service from these scams. We have also donated £3 million to Citizens Advice to set up a scam action program in the UK to raise awareness of online scams and help victims.

“The Government must include paid advertising in the Online Safety Bill so that consumers finally get the protection they need from fraudsters who will stop at nothing to target potential victims online”

Rocio Concha, which one?

Rocio Concha, which one? director of policy and advocacy, said that while these companies have some of the most sophisticated technology in the world, they still aren’t doing enough to protect their users from scams.

“The government must include paid advertising in the Online Safety Bill so that consumers finally get the protection they need from fraudsters who will stop at nothing to target potential victims online,” he said. she declared.

Which? previously urged the government to include protection against online cyber scams in the Online Safety Bill in May 2021, when it drafted a joint letter alongside a coalition of other consumer organisations, civil society and businesses.

“Online platforms play a central role in enabling criminals to reach and defraud Internet users by hosting, promoting and targeting fake and fraudulent content on their sites, including advertisements from which they profit. important,” wrote the coalition, which also included the Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME), MoneySavingExpert, City of London Police and Age UK, among others.

“While we recognize that the government has put in place initiatives to tackle certain aspects of online fraud, there is a growing risk that current plans for future regulatory frameworks do not take a comprehensive approach to the threats facing are facing consumers and do not reflect the extent or urgency of the problem.

In a report released in December 2021 by the Joint Parliamentary Committee for the Online Safety Bill – which was set up to review the upcoming bill and propose improvements before it goes to Parliament for approval final – MPs and Lords said the Bill’s exclusion of paid advertising “would frustrate the Government’s stated aim of tackling online fraud and activities that create a risk of harm in a more general”.

They added that “the exclusion of paid advertising will leave service providers little incentive to remove harmful ads and risks encouraging further proliferation of such content” and “Ofcom should be responsible for taking action against providers services that consistently allow paid advertisements that create a risk of harm to be placed on their platform”.

Although the UK government widened the scope of the Online Safety Bill in early February 2021 by adding three new criminal offenses and a number of new “priority offences” (including fraud) that tech companies will need to Proactively preventing people from being exposed, paid-for advertising is still not included in the bill.

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