A general record of my ongoing battle with all forms of nonsense.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

FishBarrel: The easy way to report misleading health claims online.

Update: FishBarrel is now available from the Chrome Web Store here. If you previously downloaded the file directly, please uninstall and reinstall from the app store.

With thousands of misleading health claims on the web and a report to the ASA taking around ten minutes, I'd regularly come across misleading claims but do nothing about them.
So I built FishBarrel. FishBarrel is a plugin for Google Chrome that manages the process of making an ASA or Trading Standards complaint so that it takes just a few seconds.
FishBarrel also tracks all text complained about in a central database. When you turn on FishBarrel, any text complained about by other users is automatically highlighted. This prevents you from submitting duplicate complaints to the ASA.
Finally, FishBarrel can automatically revisit the websites later and check if the claims have been removed.
Watch the demo (full-screen is best), then download it for free below.

FishBarrel is free. To download, open a Chrome browser, download the plugin and install the crx extension by clicking "continue" in the warning bar at the bottom of your browser window.
There is more information available in the help section of the extension.
Next time you're on a website containing misleading health claims, it will just take a few seconds to send them over to the ASA. I hope FishBarrel makes the difference between ignoring the misleading information and getting the claim removed.
I'd like to say thank you to all of the people who helped me test this, but especially @scepticletters, whose feedback helped improve FishBarrel enormously.
All development was done with the support and collaboration of my web software development company Xibis. The team have helped enormously with the technical development and have provided the server infrastructure. Xibis are specialists in building these sorts of web based productivity systems.


Bayani said...

Great work!

Wendy C said...

Brilliant idea!

G Wiz said...

How about an app for us Firefox users ?

Simon said...

@G Wiz

Yes, I'd like to - but want to see how this one goes first.

tonicblue said...

This is such an excellent idea. I am a web developer too and hope you don't mind me pointing out a couple of UI things here which I think need to be tweaked:

• I think you should be asked to register when first accessing the options page if that was accessed before turning on FishBarrel; and

• Also, I think there should be a save button on the options page. Picking nits here but I had to go back into the options page to make sure my details had actually been saved.

Other than that it all looks good! If I come across any bugs, what is the best way of letting you know? I'll try to debug before I submit.


PS. I think I met you at QED in the bar on the first night. What a sweet sweet conference that was.

Tom Carter said...

I love it, going to bash a few in now to try it out!

Tom Carter said...

Put in 3 complaints, easy peasy!

Anonymous said...

This is awesome, sterling work!

Jo said...

*very* clever - I like this a lot. I also like, assuming I've understood the video and @krelnik's post, the opportunity for seeing what others have complained about - a sort of skeptic back channel or mini sidewiki.

Good work!

Dozer said...

This is so, so awesome. I laughed with pleasure while watching the video. I hope it goes well!

That's a great feature which prevents users sending the ASA duplicate complaints.

John C said...

Brilliant work. I don't suppose there is something similar for the US?

Simon said...

@John C

Not that I'm aware of, but there is no reason why this can't be hooked into the complaints forms on US regulators if you have any that are effective.

Happy to look into it if you can send me the links to the forms.

nobby68 said...

amazing stuff simon...just got my first one off.

well done....though I could not get it highlight the text in pink...I think it was the way the website was set out.

see you at SitP at Cambridge in May

Unifex said...

Simon, This looks really useful. I've not had the time to explore it yet and I suspect there may be others that are wondering too so I'll ask in public; Is the submission process configurable also? I'd love to use this in New Zealand.

Simon said...


I'm currently configuring it to work with Australian regulators and the US is next.

Happy to do New Zealand too, though I might also open up the relevant bit of the source code so that people can write their own and send them to me.

Unknown said...

Happy to give it a go to configure the NZ forms for you. :)

Simon said...


How is your JavaScript? I'm finding that it can get pretty complicated and I'm currently having to go to all sorts of strange lengths to implement one of the Australian forms.

Unknown said...

My JavaScript is pretty good actually. :) I won't say fantastic, but I usually manage to fumble through most tasks. I'm a web developer. Working a lot with Drupal the last few years and there's a fair amount of js and jQuery in my workload at the moment.

Simon said...


Great, can you get in touch with me via this form? http://leicester.skepticsinthepub.org/Default.aspx/5/Contact-Us

Cronan said...

I received the following email from the ASA after making a number of complaints last week. What do you think? Are they allowed to do this?

Dear Mr Xxxx


Thank you for your recent complaint.

As you may know, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has received over a hundred and fifty complaints about over a hundred different websites for homeopathy. Complaints cover a range of issues from specific claims made by individual advertisers to general concerns about the sector as a whole. Because of the volume of complaints, we are sending this letter to everyone who contacted us on these issues to let you know what action we intend to take.

The ASA has an established position on claims that can be made, and those claims that are not likely to be acceptable for homeopathy, based on the requirements set out in the CAP Code and previous ASA adjudications. Although we have not historically received many complaints about advertising for homeopathy, the Code has general requirements for substantiation of claims in the health sector and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) offers specific advice on marketing health-related products and services. Further information about the requirements of the advertising Code is available on our website www.asa.org.uk and from www.copyadvice.org.uk.

We are seeking to enforce compliance with the Code even-handedly across the sector by contacting all of the advertisers we have received complaints about as well as the bodies that represent homeopaths and homeopathy in the UK. We will be explaining the Code’s requirements, giving advice on how to ensure advertising claims do not breach the Code, and asking advertisers to remove any claims which do not comply. More information about what that means in practice is provided in the CAP Help Notes on Substantiation for Health, Beauty and Slimming claims and Health, Beauty and Slimming Marketing Communications that Refer to Medical Conditions. You can find these documents on our Copy Advice website, as indicated above. Because the ASA has only been regulating websites since 1 March many of the advertisers we contact will not be familiar with us or the work we do and will need help and assistance from us. For that reason, we plan to monitor compliance 3 months after making our expectations of them clear. We feel that this will give advertisers, some of whom are very small and have limited resources, sufficient time to make the necessary changes.

The ASA will not be publishing individual adjudications on this occasion. We will however publish specific, up-to-date advice to the industry and its representative bodies in due course and we will work with them to ensure that advertising for homeopathy is compliant with the Code.

Thank you for taking the trouble to contact us. While you will not see immediate results please be assured that we are working hard in the background to resolve the issues that have been complained about.

Yours sincerely

Carly Bacon

Simon said...

They decided to do that a few weeks back. Annoying, but they are just trying to be more efficient rather than ignore the issue.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic! Now what about one for the weather.

Al said...

got a response! But not a formal investigation, because, well, you'll see why:

Dear Mr Storer


Thank you for contacting the Advertising Standards Authority.

We’ve already investigated and upheld complaints about advertising for products that claim to work in a similar way and bearing that in mind there seems little to be gained by investigating this material again. I’ve therefore passed the case to our Compliance team, which will follow it up.

The Compliance team doesn’t report to complainants or publish the details of its work but it will address the issue.

Thank you for taking the time to bring the matter to our attention. Our website, www.asa.org.uk, contains information about the ASA and the work we do, including the results of investigations into other complaints.

Kind Regards

Bridie Creely
makes it a bit harder to chase up though

Adrian Midgley said...

Very clever, thanks.

Lisa said...

The design is awesome, thank you for doing this, I've done my first one. Just wondering - looking at a nutritionist site and they use bio terrain assessment testing, vega and allergy electrical devices - can I complain about diagnosis methods?

Simon said...


Of course - it's worth complaining about any device/service like this. With Vega, it's a device as well as a service, so make sure you complain to the MHRA.

Anonymous said...

It's a good thing that there aren't very many Firefox users and so many Chrome users. If that weren't the case I'd feel that there were some reason for the exclusivity of this plugin.

Jennifer (zenbuffy) said...

I'd like to maybe look at adding some of the Irish authorities to this plugin. Is it easiest if I mail on links to forms, or is there permission to modify code myself?



Simon said...

@Jen - it's probably a lot easier if you mail me the forms. You can contact me directly via here: http://leicester.skepticsinthepub.org/Default.aspx/5/Contact-Us

Tony said...

Brilliant! Do you have plans for one that will allow Americans to complain to the FTC and FDA?

Thank you!

Simon said...


If you send me a link to either an online complaint form or an email address that will accept a complaint I will happily make it compatible with the USA. It already works for UK, Denmark, Australia and New Zealand.

Harris said...

Hi Simon,

Brilliant idea. Able to help us in South Africa by customising for us? ASA website: http://www.asasa.org.za/
My blog: http://www.camcheck.co.za and colleague's: http://www.quackdown.co.za/


John S said...

I downloaded Google Chrome, but I can't ssem to find the pluggin....

Simon said...

@John S
It's here: http://leicester.skepticsinthepub.org/FishBarrel/plugin/fishbarrel.crx

Anonymous said...

I've just finally installed Fish Barrel for Chrome. Read the help, added my details etc.
But when I click "capture new claim" on a site , it isn't activated
I got my user ID and code previously which I entered but if I click check user credentials it says "your user credentials are invalid , Would you like to register?"
But when I register a second time I get sent exactly they same username and token!
Very frustrating.

Simon said...

@Anonymous - contact me via here with your email and I'll take a look. http://leicester.skepticsinthepub.org/Default.aspx/5/Contact-Us

Anonymous said...

Hey there, chrome now only lets you install from their web store. Is there any way we can get it on the web store or work around the restriction?

Simon said...

Hi Luke,

It's not just case of uploading it, I'd need to first upgrde Fishbarrel to the latest version of the Chrome API. This is a pretty big job that I'd like to do, but Fishbarrel isn't getting the use that it previously had. I will get round to it eventually.

You can still install it - I think there are instructions here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sf9mthhfzpY