Online ads banned after ‘child avatars’ track gambling sites

File image of child. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
File image of child. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
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The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned ads from five online gambling operators after using new monitoring technology which created child “avatars” and fictional online profiles of youngsters.

The fake profiles aim to track how often children are exposed to unsuitable ads while using children’s websites in breach of the Advertising Standards Code. The use of the new technology, revealed in The Scotsman last year, is now to be expanded further to “logged in” profiles – such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Over a two week monitoring period, the ASA identified ads by 43 gambling operators in non-logged-in, online environments. Five of those gambling operators, NetEnt Product Ltd – known as Vikings Video Slot – Evoke Gaming Ltd (RedBet), Multilotto UK Ltd, Platinum Gaming Ltd (Unibet) and Skill On Net Ltd, which trades as PlayOjo, were found to have broken the strict advertising rules which prohibit gambling ads being targeted at under-18s.

The ASA collected data on the 10,754 times when ads were viewed by their “child avatars” across 24 children’s websites and 20 open-access YouTube channels.

In total, it found that gambling ads were served to the child avatars on 11 of the children’s websites monitored, while 23 individual gambling ads were seen by the child avatars on those 11 children’s websites a combined total of 151 times – 1.4 per cent of the total ad impressions.

ASA chief executive Guy Parker said: “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.

“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.

“We’re already looking at expanding this work, as well as exploring how other new technologies can help us protect the public.”

The ASA said the gambling operators had accepted that their ads broke the rules – with many claiming that the problems arose due to errors by third-party companies who served the campaigns on behalf of the operators.

The ASA has instructed the companies to take immediate action to review their online ads, ensure they are not served to web users aged below 18 years of age through the selection of media or context in which they appear and to put in place measures to ensure the breach is not repeated.