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Home Office ad to protect kids online banned for leading to porn

A Home Office radio advert aimed at protecting children from sexually explicit material online has been banned because it could direct listeners to pornographic sites. The Home Office has apologised for the advert.23 Aug 2006

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that the advertisement should not be played again after complaints that it could lead to listeners accessing pornography through the advertised child protection web address.

The advert was designed to promote the advice site Listeners who instead typed into web browsers found themselves directed towards pornographic material. The ASA found that the advert did not make clear how the web address should be spelled.

"The ASA noted the ad had not spelt out the website address in full to listeners and if typed as 'thinkyouknow' instead of 'thinkuknow' would direct listeners to a website with links to adult material," said the ASA's ruling. "This was particularly concerning as the ad was aimed at teenagers and the service being promoted was to help them stay safe online."

The advert was broadcast on GCap Media-owned Trent FM in March and April of this year. The ASA said that the advert continued to be broadcast after the problem with the web address had come to light.

"We were extremely concerned that, although the Radio Advertising Clearance Centre had been assured by [ad agency] RKCR that the ad had been taken off air, it continued to be broadcast despite GCap Media, RKCR and the Home Office being aware of the possibility of confusion," said the ruling.

The Home Office told the BBC that it was sorry for the error. "We will of course comply with the ASA's decision and apologise for any unwitting problems this may have caused by the similarity in name with this search engine," said a spokesman.

The advert is now the responsibility of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), which said that it took over the campaign after it had begun and argued to the ASA that the offending material was at least four clicks away from the mistaken web address.

"Although we recognised that there was no intention, we considered that a significant effect of the ad had been to indirectly publicise services which were unacceptable for broadcast; namely restricted adult material and other sexual services," said the ASA verdict.

The CEOP Centre announced this week that it had struck a deal with Microsoft to have a 'report abuse' button on its popular instant messaging service. Any users of the IM tool can press the button and a report will immediately be sent to police.

"Behind the report abuse button will sit police and intelligence officers who have been specially trained to tackle child sex abuse," said Jim Gamble, Chief Executive of the CEOP Centre. "We will tell you how to capture information and how to seize online discussions and then proactively do all we can to track down the perpetrator."