New rules to tackle illegal online advertising welcomed by the BGC

United Kingdom

The Government has announced new rules that will require platforms, intermediaries and publishers (“PIPs”) to be more proactive in tackling illegal online advertising. The measures, which will see duties placed on social media platforms and websites to do more to stop children from seeing age-restricted adverts, have been strongly welcomed by the Betting and Gaming Council (“BGC”) and are intended to complement other digital regulatory reforms like the Online Safety Bill, the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Protection Bill, and the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill.

What is the Online Advertising Programme?

The Government set up the Online Advertising Programme (“Programme”) to review the regulatory framework for paid-for online advertising and consider how best to regulate digital technologies. A public consultation (“Consultation”) was set up to consider the Online Advertising Programme’s direction of travel, with the aim of building a fit-for-purpose framework that would protect internet users from bad actors and under-18s from online advertising fraud, illegal content and illegal adverts.

Responses to the Consultation showed increasing trust in online advertising was vital for the growth of the sector. Following the Consultation, the Government noted that the scale and speed of development in the industry has presented challenges, including a lack of transparency and accountability in the supply chain and misaligned incentives, leading to insufficient action to address illegal harms associated with online advertising.

Direction of travel for the Online Advertising Programme

In its announcement, the Government has confirmed that the Online Advertising Programme will form a targeted package of measures designed to (i) tackle illegal advertising, and (ii) increase protections for children and young people against adverts for age-restricted products and services.

The proposed measures are set to increase the scope of statutory regulation for PIPs, reflecting the significant role they play in the online advertising space. The Government will expect PIPs to put in place systems to make it harder for bad actors to access and abuse the online ad supply chain, that detect and mitigate unlawful adverts quickly, and increase cyber resilience. The Government notes these measures will need to be proactive and go beyond notice and takedown. The Government will also place a duty on PIPs to implement proportionate systems to prevent under-18s seeing adverts for products and services that are illegal to sell to them.

The Government has noted that advertisers are effectively excluded from the new measures, as they’re already held to account under existing self-regulatory means. However, the Government acknowledges that advertisers will need to adapt and align to measures that PIPs put in place, like advertiser identity verification.

Next steps

To implement the Online Advertising Programme, the Government has said it intends to do the following:

  • Convene a taskforce this summer to bring together industry and government to first explore non-legislative action to address illegal harms in online advertising and increase child protection.
  • Conduct a further consultation on the details of proposed regulation, to ensure it is coherent, logical and can be designed and implemented in partnership with industry. This will scope out a proportionate approach to setting responsibilities on in-scope parties, according to the degree of control a party has over the content and placement of ads, as well as its size and reach.
  • Bring forward legislation, when parliamentary time allows, to introduce a new regulatory framework for paid-for online advertising, focusing on tackling illegal adverts, as defined under existing criminal provisions, and strengthening protections for children.


The Betting and Gaming Council (“BGC”) has expressed that it welcomes the Government’s new rules and tougher sanctions to combat illegal ads. The measures align with the BGC’s own recent call on social media companies to cooperate with its members on implementing improved safeguards to protect vulnerable groups and prevent children from seeing ads for age-restricted products, like gambling. The BGC wrote to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (“DCMS”) earlier this year, urging the Government to increase pressure on social media platforms to do more and the BGC has expressed that its members have already led by example - the new BGC code of conduct introduced a ban on football clubs using their social media accounts to post direct promotions for betting odds and sites, as these are deemed popular with young people.

We will have to wait and see what comes of the further consultation, but it’s expected the task force could be accompanied by a new regulator to oversee rules on online advertising.