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IPA renews 'urgent' call for online political ads register

04 Feb 2019  |  Michaela Jefferson 
IPA renews 'urgent' call for online political ads register

The UK's trade body for ad agencies has today renewed calls for a publicly available, platform-neutral, industry-owned register of all political ads online - lest the industry become 'tarnished' as a whole.

The announcement follows reports that hundreds of thousands of pounds are currently being spent on Brexit-related, micro-targeted ads from both sides of the debate.

According to the IPA, these ads are served with "negligible oversight" by online platforms despite political adverts being most at risk of abuse, whilst those platforms receive "significant" advertising revenues.

The trade body therefore recommends that all online platforms take responsibility for populating the proposed register by providing all their political ad campaign data and metadata as feeds, with oversight provided by the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS).

Similar calls were made last year in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the data analytics firm was accused of manipulating voters using microtargeted political advertising during the 2016 US presidential election and the EU referendum.

"In the absence of regulation, we need transparency to protect against the temptation of extreme messaging," Paul Bainsfair, director general of the IPA, told Mediatel at the time.

However, since then the online tech platforms have made "only small steps", the IPA has said. Facebook leads the way by providing political ad archiving in the UK, whilst Google and Twitter lag behind.

“While we commend some of the steps taken by the online platforms - they are constructive and going in the right direction - they are still the financial beneficiaries of this type of advertising," Bainsfair said today.

“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."

Meanwhile, the Information Commissioners Office watchdog (ICO) yesterday called for a temporary halt to online political advertising until relevant parties and campaigns agree on new rules. The demand was contained in a report by the Electoral Reform Society, which said democracy is under threat from these "dark ads."

According to the industry's think tank, Credos, trust in advertising is now at an all time low - which advertisers and agencies alike are keen to remedy. Public favourability towards advertising fell to 25% in December last year.

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