The idea of an internet police has long been a joke online. "Don't post that, I'm calling the internet police." But the recent meeting held by the UK's Secretary of State for Culture and some of the biggest internet service providers touched upon more regulation for the internet.
Looking to combat illegal download sites, pornography and extremism, Maria Miller summoned the likes of Google and BT to discuss how to take this forward. Whilst no resolution was agreed, what has been clear from the reaction of companies operating online is that they do not want central legislation policing the web.
For the advertising industry in particular, a crackdown on how the internet works would bring about significant and fundamental change. For one, there would be less reliance on automated buying, which is where the content is seeded out and basically allowed to enter the ether with very little control over it. At the moment, there is a tendency to buy in bulk with very little science behind it and simply judge success and failure on the results delivered.
The Everyday Sexism Project highlighted some of the complexities around advertising on social media last month, and this is not the first time the advertising industry has come under the microscope. In 2007 a BBC Panorama programme uncovered brands appearing on sites which promoted the craze of 'happy slapping.' Much like having an all-seeing internet police authority, no-one wants to rake up this old ground and give online advertising a bad name. As the fastest growing segment of the advertising market, it's where more and more brands will be concentrating their budgets.
Instead, there seems to be a groundswell of opinion that the onus should be on the industry to get its house in order. Rather than call upon an outside body to impose rules and procedures, self-regulation is the way to go. And by that, I don't mean the kind of self-regulation Facebook chose, but products designed by those in the industry that can help improve the current system. With Government opinion now firmly focused on cleaning up the internet, advertisers will be running a huge risk if they carry on business as usual and don't start investigating the options available to them.
Thankfully, there are options available today that they can start using. Content verification is one such way that can help brands do as much as possible to ensure they do not appear on the sites which are now firmly in the crosshairs of the Secretary of State.
Whilst there can never be a guarantee that brands will never fall into this trap, they can and should be doing their upmost to ensure they have covered their backs and are using every option available to them. Otherwise, we could see the internet police knocking on their doors in the not too distant future.