UK Ad Standards Group Says Publishers Are Still Responsible For Auto Generated Ads

from the uk-needs-section-230 dept

It continues to amaze me how important a law like section 230 of the CDA is to keep ridiculous situations from occurring. Fundamentally, we shouldn't even need a section 230 -- which notes that online service providers aren't responsible for the actions of users -- since it should be common sense. The person liable for violating a law should be the person who actually violated the law, and not the tool they used to violate the law. Yet, as we see time and time again in other countries that have no Section 230 equivalent, such common sense doesn't always play out.

Take, for example, a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK, that says that any online publishers are responsible for the text of any ads they display -- even if those ads are automatically generated, such as by a system like Google's AdSense. That puts publishers in a really tricky position. The whole benefit of using something like AdSense is the fact that it easily fills in mostly relevant remnant ad inventory, without requiring the publisher to carefully review and sell the ad space. Making those publishers liable for the content of those ads is only going to drive them away from using such ads altogether, which doesn't benefit anyone. Yes, you can understand that the ASA doesn't want questionable ads out there, but then the liability should fall on those actually responsible: the advertiser who created the questionable ad. Not the publisher who had no control over it.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Nick Stamoulis, Sep 29th, 2008 @ 7:45pm

    I have to say, I'm very surprised at how strict the UK is with their online advertising - including their strict rule about the Olympics and ads. I would have thought the UK would be more lenient than the US in this area.

     

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  2.  
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    Logan Middleton, Sep 29th, 2008 @ 8:47pm

    Not Providers of Holes

    This probably comes down to a fundamental legal difference. The US has the common law concept of common carrier. The UK does not. Any business that has an exemption like that of a common carrier has that exemption only by way of specific legislation.

    Also, there’s a general principle that things are the responsibility of the party closest to you – the one you had the relationship with. This helps with the UK propensity for buck passing. You buy the product. It packs up after three years. You would reasonably expect the product to last ten. It’s always the shop’s responsibility. The shop will always try to tell you it’s the manufacturer’s responsibility. You have a relationship with the shop. You have none with the manufacturer. Legally, it’s entirely the shop’s responsibility. Similarly, you went to guardian.co.uk. You saw an inappropriate ad. It’s The Guardian’s fault.

    The UK has something not so different to the Communications Decency Act. The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 introduced the legislative exemption of ‘mere conduit.’ Unfortunately, it doesn’t cover as much ground. I think it may be pushing it for publishers to argue that they are service providers of holes, the holes being filled by someone else.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2008 @ 9:46pm

    What google ads?

    I have never gotten a webpage with Google ads built into it. Every single one of them merely links to another file on Google's server. How can someone be held accountable for an ad that they never included their webpage?

    Saying they are responsible for it is stupid. It's like if a newspaper is sold with a blank box with the words "insert ad here" and then the person who bought it from the newspaper vendor pasted a shady ad into the box and then somehow the newspaper is responsible for the content of that ad. There is no reason the newspaper should be at fault but the UK seems to think otherwise.

     

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  4.  
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    Scote, Sep 29th, 2008 @ 10:01pm

    This is actually a good thing. In the UK ads have to actually be true, so fake products with fake claims are not allowed, whereas in the US we are inundated with fake or exaggerated claims for popular products and services, and inundated with outright lies for some products. It is to the credit of the UK that Similin' Bob could never succeed there.

     

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  5.  
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    Frosty840, Sep 30th, 2008 @ 1:40am

    The way I see it, this move will send pressure from the publishers back up the chain to the ad selectors (like google) to write keyword-matching algorithms that don't suck.
    If keyword-to-advertising matching were better, maybe online ads would start to become effective, rather than the ones I see for this page, which would only make sense if I had come here using a search engine as bad as the ad-selection engine:

    UK Employer Law Advice
    Avoid Tribunal Issues With A 24 HR Advice On 0800 xxx xxxx In UK

    Faulty Products?
    Received A Faulty Product? We Can Help You Make A Claim. Call Us Now!

    More Money Than Ad Sense
    Sell direct-link-ads and make Money Free website content plus cash

    Pay Per Click Ad
    Make at least $500 In Your First Two Hours - Guaranteed.

     

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  6.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger, Sep 30th, 2008 @ 9:00am

    Re:

    Ok so Smilin' Bob ain't smilin' over in the UK but wouldn't it make more since to go after smilin' Bob for misrepresenting the product instead of going after Comcast for airing it? And since Smilin' Bob is an advertisment on a national level not a local one than comcast wouldn't have even put it on the channel, Fox would have.

    Note: If someone douse not see the analogy here, replace "Comcast" with "website", "Fox" with "Google", and "Smilin' Bob" with just about any offensive add.

     

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  7.  
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    Eric, Sep 30th, 2008 @ 9:39am

    Gun companies kill people?

    Can't this same logic be used to say that gun manufacturers should be held accountable for people who commit crimes using their guns...

     

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