Advertisements aired on television and radio, or run on billboards or in print products, are regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and advertisers pay a levy – typically 0.1% of their annual marketing budgets – to fund the ASA’s system. However, while the ASA regulates all paid-for online search advertising – the sponsored links that pop up on the right-hand side of a browser window on Google, for example – no levy is paid on the cost of that advertising. And that has become a sticking point.
The ASA is keen to widen its remit to allow it to regulate the content of company websites that consumers are finding through search engines. But it needs search advertisers to begin paying into the levy system in order to fund such an extension.
Now Google and the rest of the £2bn UK search-marketing industry stand accused of not working to develop the broader code of online self-regulation demanded by the government, or exploring ways of funding it. For Google, which made a staggering $21bn in global revenues last year, the latest row only adds to the increasing scrutiny and criticism it is getting from other media organisations for its expansionist activity.