A paid-for ad for Alibaba.com, an e-commerce platform, seen on the Daily Mail website on 28 April 2023, featured an image of a doll that took the form of a naked infant with an open mouth and realistic-looking female genitalia. The image appeared alongside two others that depicted a memory stick with a gun-shaped holder, and a lacy thong.
The complainant challenged whether the ad portrayed an infant in a sexualised way and was harmful, offensive and irresponsible.
Alibaba.com Singapore E-commerce Private Ltd t/a Alibaba.com stated that the product in question was a nursing mannequin and that they were aware of its sale on other e-commerce platforms. Nonetheless, they recognised the risk of the ad causing confusion or disturbance to certain audiences. They stated that the ad had potentially been placed on their behalf by a third-party ad network that generated and displayed ads on other websites via the algorithmically driven selection of product listings on their site. They provided some further detail about the mechanisms through which the ad might have appeared, although they were not able to be certain given they could not identify the specific page to which the ad directed visitors. They explained that the advertised product had been listed on their platform by a third-party seller and that they were not otherwise involved in its sale or manufacture.
Upon receipt of the complaint, they removed the listing from their platform in order to enforce their own policies, which included that product listings on their platform must not feature images of genitalia. They added that their procedures included random spot-checks to ensure the compliance of approved listings.
Associated Newspapers Ltd t/a Daily Mail, the ad’s publisher, stated that the ad was served on their website programmatically. They noted that, before serving ads on their website, some ad networks implemented an automated scanning process that aimed to ensure compliance. However, not all the ad networks responsible for their website’s advertising content offered that functionality. After receipt of the complaint, they took steps to prevent the ad reappearing on their site and added Alibaba.com to their list of blocked advertisers. They confirmed that no readers had complained to them directly.
The ad featured an image of a doll that took the form of a naked infant with spread legs, an open mouth, and realistic-looking female genitalia, but did not provide any information regarding the product’s function. The image appeared alongside two others depicting a memory stick with a gun-shaped holder and a lacy thong.
The ASA understood that the advertised product was an infant nursing mannequin specifically designed for medical training. However, we considered that, in general, consumers would be unfamiliar with such mannequins.
We considered that, in the context of a news website, consumers would not expect to served ads for medical training devices that depicted infants’ genitalia. Because of that, we considered that there was a high risk of consumers receiving the impression that the advertised product was a sex doll in the form of an infant. We further considered that impression was likely to be reinforced by the image’s juxtaposition with images of other products that had connotations of sex and violence.
We concluded that the ad represented children in a sexualised way, was socially irresponsible, and likely to cause serious and widespread offence.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Social responsibility), 4.1 and 4.8 (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear in again in the form complained of. We told Alibaba.com Singapore E-commerce Private Ltd t/a Alibaba.com to ensure that their future ads were socially responsible, did not cause serious or widespread offence, or include images that portrayed or represented anyone who was, or seemed to be, under 18 years of age in a sexual manner.