What is the UK Online Safety Bill?Oct 16, 2023
The UK government has released a draft of its Online Safety Bill, which is set to become law at some point in the future.
The primary purpose of the Bill is to protect children and young people online. It aims to do this by making it more difficult for people under the age of 18 to access ‘harmful content’ – such as sexually explicit content, pornography, and content that promotes self-harm, suicide, and eating disorders.
The Bill will apply to all sites, online platforms, etc., that are accessible in the UK, regardless of where the online services are based or registered.
Image credit: Gov.uk
How will children be protected?
The legislation is modeled on the UK’s Health and Safety legislation, which means that companies will have a ‘duty of care’ towards their users. The onus will be on the service provider to make their services safe to use.
Put simply, tech companies (such as social media and search engine providers) will be responsible for ensuring that children are safe online and are prevented from accessing harmful content.
The Bill will require service providers to publish risk assessments, remove harmful and illegal content, and enforce minimum age requirements. They will have to ensure that under-18s can’t access age-inappropriate content, but adults can.
Does the Bill protect adults, too?
While the Online Safety Bill’s key focus is to protect young people and children, it also aims to provide adults with greater control over the content they interact with online.
In addition, it will hold sites accountable for the spreading of content that is illegal, harmful, or considered disinformation.
How will all of this be regulated?
Ofcom is the UK’s communications regulator. They will oversee the regulation and hold companies to account that are in breach of the Bill.
What will the consequences of non-compliance be?
Some of Ofcom’s powers as a regulator will include the ability to fine companies and block sites that are non-compliant. Fines could be imposed of up to £18million, or 10% of annual global turnover (whichever is higher).
If service providers fail to meet their duty of care under the new legislation, Ofcom could also be given the power to make non-compliance a criminal offense. This could see senior management of tech companies facing criminal proceedings.
What are the next steps?
The Online Safety Bill has been in the works for many years, and it is still in its draft stages. It is due to be scrutinized by a joint committee of MPs by the end of 2023.
Once it has been passed into law, Ofcom will be responsible for turning the legislation into something they’re able to regulate. Their own roadmap for this suggests the process could take several months.
The Bill is due to be reviewed every two years (minimum) by the UK Government after it has become law.
Digital parenting expert
Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov, PhD, J.D. is an international speaker on internet safety issues, and a digital parenting expert.
Read her guide to the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act (CAADCA) or visit the Consultancy page for more information on how Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov can provide internet safety advisory services for your organization.
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