Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Freedom4Health aren't fans of the Advertising Standards Authority

Freedom4Health (F4H) is new to me - highlighted by a friend on Facebook. I don't know how long the site's been around but there are a few bits and pieces on there that may be of interest to health / science / skeptic bloggers who have an interest in complaints made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) etc.

One one page there is a template letter for those who've been contacted by the ASA and who wish to stand their ground. The letter text suggests that the ASA has no legal authority to regulate their advertising and that they believe their marketing material is fine. It's a sort of textual raspberry-blowing.

I'm not sure how successful this strategy will be though - the ASA can pass on details to Trading Standards (who definitely can take legal action) so it would seem to be quicker to amend the advertising.

A separate issue is that by not addressing the ASA's request marketers put themselves at risk of an adjudication on the ASA's website. However much they might rail against this and deem it irrelevant or biased it shows up prominently on search engine results. Worse, if the company ends up on the more serious non-compliant online advertisers list then the ASA can work with search engines to remove the company's sponsored adverts.

Freedom4Health has also noted that the ASA can even take out its own ads which are critical of a non-compliant company (actually I've never seen this done but am aware that it's a possibility).

According to their page "ASA threatens libellous Google Ads campaign" they (F4H) have already received reports that non-compliant online advertisers have been warned that this might happen and as they point out "Anyone searching for that therapist or product on Google would also see the ASA advert and could be influenced by the ASA's one-sided presentation of the case."

Naturally they're not terribly impressed but to be honest something similar is already happening.

The adjudications and non-compliant listings show up prominently whether or not the ASA takes out an advert and because an increasing number of bloggers write about the various stages of complaints (gathering info to put a complaint together, update on a particular complaint submitted, outcome of a complaint or adjudication, report on a new non-compliant listing) this is also contributing to a changing Google landscape for companies that persist in making misleading claims. I've seen a few (not many) newspaper columns refer to adjudications and non-compliant listings too.

There are also a number of other web-based tools, such as Web of Trust and rbutr, that are being used to address misleading websites. Web of Trust lets anyone score a website (positively or negatively) and add comments about what's good or bad about the site. Rbutr lets users point visitors, who have the rbutr Chrome plugin enabled, to see a site that rebuts the misleading information in the first. These are conceptually similar to the old 'Sidewiki' which once let users add comments on any website.

Another F4H page refers to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and contains this snippet about the number of complaints needed for an investigation to be opened: "...However, what can be said is that the OFT does not act on individual complaints, unlike the ASA, where only one complaint will trigger an investigation, regardless of where the complaint originates."

While it's certainly true that the ASA needs only one complaint I'm really not sure about that being the case for the OFT. However I've only ever dealt with Trading Standards (not identical to OFT) and have reported a handful of organisations (one has since ceased trading) - as far as I'm aware they acted on just one complaint, though I know that in one of the cases I complained about other people also came forward to complain. They do tend to act quite quickly if a company is making claims about treating cancer (because it's illegal to do so).

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Comments written in ALL CAPS LOCK will be deleted and I won't publish any pro-homeopathy comments, that ship has sailed I'm afraid (it's nonsense).