NEWS5 February 2019

IPA calls on tech platforms to fund online political ad register

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UK – The IPA has called for all online political ads to be listed on a publicly available register, saying the move should be funded by the tech platforms.

Online political ads laptop_crop

The IPA mooted the idea for a searchable register of political advertising across all media as part of its call for a moratorium on the use of microtargeted political messaging in April last year.

However, it has issued a new call for ‘urgent, cross-industry action’ due to online platforms continuing to run ‘microtargeted Brexit-related political ads online that are unregulated and risk polarising political discourse’.

Political messages are being served to the public and politicians with ‘at best negligible oversight’, the organisation said.

Online platforms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter should charge a fixed fee for each piece of individual political ad creative used, to fund the population of the industry-owned register, which should be overseen by the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS), the IPA suggested.

While the IPA acknowledged that feedback it sought from the platforms showed some progress had been made, such as Facebook’s introduction of political ad archiving in the UK, it said a cross-industry approach is needed to address the issue.

In a report published by the Electoral Reform Society yesterday, the Information Commissioner’s Office called for an ‘ethical pause’ on political advertising to allow for further debate on digital campaigning from all parties.  

Paul Bainsfair, director general, IPA, said: "It is a great shame that because online political advertising is unregulated, misleading political advertising tarnishes the industry as a whole.

"Given that only small steps are currently being made by the online tech platforms and that they continue to wield such power on voter decision-making, we find it incumbent upon us to call for more urgent action in the form of a register of online political ads. Funded by the tech platforms themselves. While we commend some of the steps taken by the online platforms ... they are still the financial beneficiaries of this type of advertising."

Bainsfair added: "Ultimately, no individual platform has the remit, authority and longevity to ensure fairness, transparency and consistency across the board. For this, we need a single body with the resources, cross-industry relationships and regulatory oversight. Which is why we – alongside the acknowledgment by the House of Lords that industry bodies should commit to signing up fully with JICWEBS, suggest that this comes under their jurisdiction."