Earlier this month, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority issued a ruling against Mobjizz Limited, owner of Ewank.com (an adult services provider) for displaying adult ads in Talking Tom (owned by Outfit7), the popular mobile app that is particularly popular with young children as a kind of game.) The adult ads apparently involved three nearly naked women. The complaint was made by the parent of a five year old who saw the ad while playing the app.
Essentially, Mobjizz and Outfit7 said the same thing: they had strict rules in place against this kind of thing but had no idea how this had happened anyway. Both seemed to suggest that a rogue affiliate (whom they could not identify) may have been involved in serving the ad in breach of their rules.
The ASA, unsurprisingly, upheld the complaint against Mobjizz. In its usual polite way, the ASA expressed thanks to all parties for cooperating but said that this ad should not be shown in the future, nor generally should Mobjizz show adult ads to children in the future. As is usual in these kinds of cases in the UK, it seems that the matter will not be pursued further and neither Mobjizz nor Outfit7 will face any penalties or further legal action.
Comment: this is about the third or fourth time that I have come across adult or otherwise inappropriate mobile or online ads being displayed to inappropriate persons, ESPECIALLY violent or adult ads being shown to children. In each case, the defence by the advertiser, the ad network and the app/game/service is usually that they have rules in place and don’t know how those rules were breached. In each case, my strong suspicion is that those rules are simply not followed by or enforced against the affiliates or other links in the chain between the advertiser and the actual consumer. Clearly this is very concerning from both a legal and a consumer standpoint: it simply shouldn’t happen. However, in the absence of concerted industry self-regulation (of which there is no current prospect) or serious legal claims with substantial enforcement to back them up, I’m afraid I can’t see much of an end in sight. The best we can hope for is that the apps/games/online services will take more care in picking their advertiser partners in order to avoid this kind of public naming and shaming in the future.
Moral of the story: if you enable ads on your mobile or online app/game/service, pick your advertising partner carefully! The wrong ad can cause you significant reputational harm and could (but probably won’t) lead to legal action.