Internet users will soon have the opportunity to complain about company websites. Consumers will be able to make official objections about indecent or misleading information on the internet to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which is taking on new powers to regulate commercial websites.

From March, the ASA will be able to police any statement on a company’s website which could be interpreted as marketing, even if it is not a paid-for advert.  The principle that adverts have to be legal, decent, honest and truthful is now going to extend to on-line.  This will also include marketing communications on advertiser-controlled ‘pages’ on social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

Under existing rules, statements (for example claiming that ‘we are number one in the industry’) which would have to be justified if made in print, TV or radio, could appear on a website without a problem.  That is now changing.

The ISBA, the industry body which represents British advertisers, are recommending anyone with a website needs to have a fresh look at it and feel totally happy with the statements made.

The ASA has spent a year preparing for the change, and is expecting a large number of extra complaints.  Last year 2,500 people complained about website content, but under the old rules their objections were not admissible.  That is not to say all 2,500 complaints would be upheld under the new rules but the ASA is expanding staff numbers by 10% to cope with the extra workload.