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

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Advertising Standards Authority adjudications, sanctions and UK Passport Net

This morning on Radio 4's Moneybox I heard about a website ( which comes up prominently when people search for anything to do with getting or renewing a UK passport.

The site helps people fill in a passport form and charges them around £40 for doing so, however this money doesn't go towards the cost of getting a passport. In short it's much cheaper just to go to the Post Office or be more careful when searching online and make sure you use the official GOV.UK website.

While the service isn't illegal or anything like that, after all it's perfectly OK to pay someone to help you with something such as getting an accountant to help you manage your finances, the issue with this website - and which led to 14 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) resulting in an adjudication - is that it implied that it was official and people believed it.

The programme spoke to consumers who'd fallen foul of the website and who handed over money that they needn't have, it also spoke to the communications director at the ASA who outlined what could be done to prevent other consumers from being misled.

Skeptic bloggers often blog about the websites or other marketing materials of organisations that have made claims that may be misleading. Part of the reason for this is that it provides an alternative view that (hopefully) people searching for relevant keywords will come across. The intention is to mildly alter the Google landscape a little bit.

The ASA spokesperson was challenged that there didn't seem to be that much that they could do that would actually solve the problem. The ASA does have quite a few options, but it can be a drawn-out process.

They said that they'd asked UK Passport Net to remove the term 'official' and at time of recording this hadn't been done (I checked, it's still there) despite the sanction being published two months ago (see link above). There are a number of companies that dig their heels and in and don't respond to the ASA's requests, to the point that the ASA has a special page of "non-compliant online advertisers" which lists the repeat offenders. People involved in the alternative therapy world are often reluctant to co-operate with the ASA, or Trading Standards, and some have even tried to band together to fight this - arguing that the ASA has no particular mandate to tell them what they can and can't say.

Here's what steps the ASA can and does take - firstly, work with the advertiser to try and resolve the matter. If that doesn't work they can add the advertiser to the non-compliant list. This seems to show up prominently in Google search results (or perhaps it's just on mine). If there's still no joy then they can do several of the following (a) take out an advert themselves flagging up the misbehaviour (b) work with search engines to remove paid-for adverts (c) report the company to Trading Standards.

See more at Online Sanctions.

All of these take time and effort - at the time of writing Google still hasn't removed UK Passport Net's listing but it may well do so soon. If the company removes 'official' from their ad then it can remain.

In the meantime, blogging about stuff in the hope that it might show up in Google's search results is perhaps a decent strategy.

Also, here's the official GOV.UK site to access passport information

See also 
These websites discuss concerning behaviour from a cancer clinic in Texas which has recently had its inspection reports published, it really doesn't look very good. So far there appear to have been no legal sanctions but through the blogging efforts of doctors, scientists and skeptics anyone searching for information about the clinic now will most definitely find pages that are critical of the clinic's activities.

FDA Releases Burzynski Clinic Inspection Notes
"The information and its implications, should they hold up, are absolutely damning for the Burzynski Clinic and especially for the lead researcher, Stanislaw Burzynski. Those of us who have been researching this topic have known about these findings for a long time, from almost the moment it could be requested through a Freedom of Information Act request (6 months before it appeared on the FDA website), but we have been careful to not release it through blogs. We wanted to see that it got as high profile a release as possible. Of course, the cat is out of the bag in a big way, and so I want to let you know what these documents say."

Writing About Houston Cancer Quack Dr. Burzynski’s Antineoplastons
"Skeptics can do many things to naturally boost the Google ranking of good information so that it arrives in the hands of people who need it, patients and their families."

1 comment:

  1. Elizabeth J Neal agrees that "The site helps people fill in a passport form and charges them around £40 for doing so, however this money doesn't go towards the cost of getting a passport" in her comment which I sadly couldn't publish as it was because it contained a link to an odd-looking website that might have been spam.


Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

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).