Sterra under probe over misleading ad on S'pore tap water quality, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Sterra under probe over misleading ad on S'pore tap water quality

Singapore’s competition watchdog is probing filtration company Sterra over an online advertisement that implied that the water supply here is unfit for drinking.

The ad, which circulated on Instagram and Facebook, showed water teeming with microorganisms like bacteria and algae, and gained prominence after Nanyang Technological University PhD student Clarence Sim debunked the claims it made in a viral Instagram video on Feb 1.

In his video, Mr Sim said Sterra’s footage did not show tap water but likely water from a pond.

The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) told The Straits Times that it is in contact with national water agency PUB and is looking into the claims.

“Under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, the commission can apply for a court injunction to restrain a business from engaging in an unfair practice, such as a false claim made by a business,” said a CCCS spokesman.

Sterra has since taken down the flagged ad, following a request from PUB, which confirmed that this was not the first time it had warned Sterra, which sells air and water purifiers, about misleading claims.

“CCCS will continue to monitor the situation and consider taking appropriate action if necessary,” said the CCCS spokesman.

The CCCS, a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, had in 2022 applied for a court order against Triple Lifestyle Marketing over the alkaline water filtration system retailer misleading consumers about its products. The retailer had claimed that filtered water can prevent diseases like cancer and diabetes and improve the condition of those with such diseases.

Sterra has not responded to repeated queries from ST since Feb 8.

PUB said: “We note that water purifier company Sterra had carried an online advertisement, which contained misleading claims that tap water in Singapore contains harmful microorganisms such as bacteria and algae.

“PUB has issued a number of advisories to Sterra to emphasise that the company should cease such misleading advertisements. We will be issuing another advisory to Sterra in response to this latest advertisement.”

ST understands Sterra has received more than two such requests from PUB over misleading ads to date.

The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (Asas) has received three complaints about Sterra’s ad since January, said its chairman, Professor Ang Peng Hwa, on Feb 28.

The matter of misleading advertising was brought up by Ms Yeo Wan Ling, an MP for Pasir-Ris Punggol GRC, in Parliament on Feb 28. She asked what safeguards exist to ensure that social media companies keep online advertisers on their platforms in line with local regulations.

Ms Yeo said: “In the recent case, a water purification company made certain arguably uninformed claims about Singapore’s tap water. PUB has since issued advisories for that.”

She added: “It is unclear what the social media platforms do to verify the content of these ads.”

Ms Yeo said it is easy for companies and individuals to publish ads on such platforms, which also encourage paying to promote a wider distribution of ads.

Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Tan Kiat How said all ads for goods and services that appear online must abide by the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice.

Advertisers are expected to be familiar with the relevant laws and guidelines, and Asas, which regulates ads, adopts a complaints-based approach in reviewing potential breaches when they are reported.

“(Asas) can get advertisers to amend or withdraw advertisements that are deemed to have breached the guidelines (or the code of practice),” said Mr Tan.

Companies that repeatedly publish misleading ads can be investigated by CCCS, which can in turn refer the issue to the courts, he said.