Tuesday 20 July 2021 2:03 pm

Ministers urged to include online adverts in new safety bill

The government has been urged to include paid-for online adverts in its new online safety bill amid concerns the pandemic has led to a “devastating” surge in scams.

Ministers have outlined plans to hold tech companies liable for harmful material posted to their platforms, with the new laws set to be presented to pre-legislative scrutiny.

The draft laws will force companies such as Facebook and Google to clamp down on illegal content and establish a duty of care over users, with Ofcom granted powers to hand down hefty fines for non-compliance.

But campaigners have hit out at the decision not to include online scams in the new laws despite an “overwhelming case” to do so.

Recent figures from Action Fraud revealed the number of reported incidents of fraud increased by a third in the year to April compared to the previous 12 months, causing losses of more than £2.3bn for victims.

A coalition of consumer groups, charities and industry bodies, including Innovate Finance, the Investment Association and The City UK, today renewed calls for ads to be included in the bill, slamming the government’s approach as “complex and muddled”.

“As a coalition of consumer groups, charities and industry bodies, our united view is that the government’s current approach to tackling online fraud is flawed,” they said.

The groups added that while the recent inclusion in the bill of fraud carried out through user-generated content was welcome, failing to include online ads would “leave too much room for criminals to exploit online systems”.

The government has resisted the calls, saying it was instead considering tougher rules through a separate review of online advertising rules.

“The programme will develop a structured response to challenges raised by online advertising, including standards about the placement and content of advertising, and the role advertising can play in enabling online fraud,” it said in response to the campaign.

Last month Google pledged to tighten its advertising rules in the UK in a bid to crack down on financial scams following pressure from the City watchdog.

The Financial Conduct Authority welcomed the move but said legislation was required for a “permanent and consistent solution”.