Martin Lewis backs calls to ensure search engines must prevent scam ads as part of the Online Safety Bill - here's all you need to know
MoneySavingExpert (MSE) founder Martin Lewis has backed calls by consumer group Which? to tighten the wording within the forthcoming Online Safety Bill to ensure search engines, not just social media companies, are forced to prevent fraudulent ads from appearing on their platforms. As it stands, search engines only have to "minimise" fake ads.
Update Wednesday 1 June: In line with the recommendations discussed by Which? and Martin Lewis, the Government has tabled its own amendment at Committee stage that search engines will have to follow the same rules as the big social media platforms - meaning both will have to "prevent" users from encountering scam ads. The Committee will vote on the amendment in due course.
Which? has formally drafted an amendment to make sure social media firms and search engines have to follow the same rules in the Bill.
The proposals were heard during an Online Safety Bill Committee evidence session today (26 May) - the goal of which was to scrutinise changes to the Bill and to put forward any further recommendations.
The Government confirmed in March that ads appearing on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, and those on search engines, including Google, will now fall under the remit of the new Online Safety Bill. The inclusion came after Martin, MSE, and the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute - the charity founded by Martin - teamed up with a host of other charities, agencies and trade bodies to lobby the Government.
At the committee hearing, Martin, Which?, and the Personal Investment Management and Financial Advice Association argued for two main changes to the current Bill to ensure it better protects consumers and makes it easier for them to report fraudulent ads. The two key changes recommended are:
- Ensuring search engines have to prevent fraudulent ads from appearing on their sites. In the current Bill, only social media companies have to prevent fraudulent ads from appearing. Currently, search engines only need to minimise fraudulent ads. Which? has formally drafted an amendment to make sure that both social media firms and search engines have to follow the same duties in the Bill.
- Standardising the consumer complaints procedure and making sure it covers fraudulent advertising. Martin said: "Users should have an easy and transparent way to report fraudulent activity online." The three representatives argued that the Bill should ensure that an easy-to-use complaints tool exists to report paid-for scams.
Paid-for scam and fraudulent advertising had been previously omitted from the Bill, but in December a cross-party group of MPs and Lords, whose parliamentary job was to analyse the draft rules, said its exclusion would "obstruct the Government’s stated aim of tackling online fraud". They added that a lack of online regulation had left too many people vulnerable to abuse, fraud, violence and, in some cases, the loss of life.
Culture secretary Nadine Dorries said in March: “We want to protect people from online scams and have heard the calls to strengthen our new internet safety laws. These changes to the upcoming Online Safety Bill will help stop fraudsters conning people out of their hard-earned cash using fake online adverts."