We find that customers and indeed professionals, have trouble keeping up with current laws and regulations regarding practices online. Thus we shall be filling you in with some of the relevant information you need to know as an online business or site owner.
Currently it is felt that the internet enjoys a freer range in terms of restrictions and legal requirements, however we are progressively witnessing a more focussed interest in the world wide web from official bodies. Indeed each online industry needs to be well informed for their own good.
In the past the Advertising Standard Authority has not had permission to oversee the standard of advertising online. However, the range of the ASA has been extended to an online audience as of 1 March 2011.
These guidelines cover all websites and domains which are run from a UK company and cover Marketing Communications, paid and non-paid avertising spaces, including social networking like Facebook, Twitter etc. As Marketing Communications appears to be a broad statement it could also extend to the content of your website, email commincations and newsletters etc.
What Are The Penalities?
The ASA suggest that they are not a tool of 'punishment'. Penalties appear to focus on negatively affecting the image of your brand by informing others of your continued non-compliance, severing your advertising ability with certain companies, and generally making life a little more difficult.
If the ASA finds that a complaint is warrented then they will tell you to cease the offending item. If you choose not to act on their advice they can complain to your hosting company, search engines, and those involved in your material in an attempt to plea for its removal. Often a stern email from an official looking source is enough to see your service providers scattering for the hills.
The ASA also rely on the name-and-shame technique by posting your case online on its website as to empasise the fact your company seemingly refuses to comply with their request. They also suggest that they can potentially employ online paid advertisements to spread the word of your "continued non-compliance"
As you can see by their weekly posted Adjudications page (http://www.asa.org.uk/ASA-action/Adjudications.aspx) it can take only a single complaint via email for your website or content to be investigated and issued instruction to amend.
How Do I Know If My Site Is Legal?
It is very simple. Be honest, be age appropraite and fulfill your promises. Ensure adverts and promotional offers are truthful and are not misleading. Apply a level of decency and social awareness, particularly were alcohol etc is concerned.
We suggest you read ASA Adjudications page and consider if any of the cases mentioned could possibly be reflceted in your site and material.
So, as to avoid being shamed by the ASA we suggest you consider the consequences of using terms which, if scrutinised, would show to be technically untrue, eg terms such as "Family Owned Business" and titles such as "Doctor", "Major" or "Professor" when Mr/Miss etc would be more relevant.
We heavily stress the importance of reading and reassesing your sites textual content.