The UK’s advertising watchdog has decided that Amazon was responsible for the product description of a book available for sale on its online store. The product description was considered by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to constitute an advertisement and was, as a result, subject to the ASA’s rules.

The description of "Melanie's Marvelous Measles” which appeared on www.amazon.co.uk was replicated verbatim from the back cover of the book and appeared on the Amazon site by way of an automated feed from a third party. The description was deemed to be misleading as it undermined the dangers posed by measles and raised doubts about the necessity and safety of vaccinations for children. These claims went beyond expressions of opinion and, because they were not backed up with evidence in the description, were considered misleading.

Amazon claimed that the description amounted to user-generated content and was not an advertisement. The ASA disagreed and found that Amazon had a responsibility to ensure that the description, which was an advertisement used to influence consumers, was not misleading. The automated manner by which the content appeared on the site did not relieve Amazon of its obligations and it was ordered to remove the ad.

The remit of the regulatory body in Ireland, the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI), was recently extended to cover online advertising (see our previous article here).

This finding should alert businesses selling goods online to ensure that product descriptions are not misleading, even if the descriptions are automatically generated.