ASA deploys avatars to enhance online enforcement

4 April 2019

The UK’s advertising watchdog the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has deployed new monitoring technology to help better identify and ban gambling ads that can be seen by children online.

The technology creates child ‘avatars’, developed by a data and analytics company, that simulate minors’ internet browsing habits.

Seven of these avatars were created, with three reflecting browsing characteristics of children aged 6 to 7, 8 to 12 and 16 years old. Another was designed to reflect an adult’s browsing habits, one was designed to act as a person of indeterminate age and one reflected the behaviour of an adult and child using the same device.

Over a two-week monitoring period, carried out in 2018, the ASA found that gambling ads were served to the child avatars on 10,754 occasions, across 24 children’s websites and 20 open-access - not age-restricted - YouTube channels.

In total, ads from 43 gambling operators were served to the child avatars. Of this number, five were found to have broken rules relating to gambling ads being targeted at under-18s. Kindred Group’s Unibet, the Skill On Net-powered PlayOjo, MRG Group’s RedBet, Multilotto and ads for NetEnt’s Vikings slot were all found to be in breach.

The ASA revealed that 23 individual ads were seen on 11 children’s websites 151 times in total, accounting for 1.4% of the total ad impressions (the number of times the ads appeared). The Vikings ads alone were responsible for 10 ads and 122 of these impressions. It noted that no gambling ads were served on any of the open-access YouTube channels monitored.

The Authority said that all companies found to be in breach accepted they were at fault, with the majority of cases blamed on errors by third-party marketing partners. Each company was told to take immediate action to review their online ads and to ensure they were not served to minors in future.

The monitoring test was described by the ASA as the beginning of a new phase in its approach to enforcement.

“Online ads are subject to the same strict rules that apply elsewhere and this important new monitoring capability delivers on our commitment to having more impact online,” ASA chief executive Guy Parker said.

“It’s already allowed us to spot a problem with a small number of gambling operators and take quick and effective action to ensure children are protected from irresponsibly-targeted gambling ads,” he explained. “We’re already looking at expanding this work, as well as exploring how other new technologies can help us protect the public.”

The ASA is now exploring whether this new approach to monitoring and enforcement can be extended to logged-in environments, such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

It will also look to extend use of monitoring solutions beyond gambling, using it to track exposure to online ads for high fat, salt or sugar food and drink products and alcohol.