The Online Safety Bill is a new set of laws to protect children and adults online. It will make social media companies more responsible for their users’ safety on their platforms and they will do it by introducing a range of obligations to the way they design, operate, and moderate their platforms.
We can all probably imagine who the Government intended to target by this Bill, however, there will be many more online services that will be caught by it. The scope of it covers Internet services that enable user content generated, uploaded or shared by a user (user content), to be encountered or shared with another user. Therefore, it is likely to catch thousands of smaller platforms, including messaging services, websites, platforms and online forums where information can be shared, advertising is served, or where users might interact with other users.
The Bill will also apply to service providers with ‘links’ to the UK, which is satisfied where a service is capable of being used in the UK and where there is a material risk of significant harm to individuals in the UK arising from the content present on the service or via the search results.
Ofcom will be the regulator for online safety in the UK, with a core duty to:
‘…adequately protect citizens from harm by ensuring online services make appropriate use of systems and processes to keep users safe.’
It will help companies to comply with the new laws by publishing codes of practice, setting out the steps companies should take to comply with their new duties.
Ofcom’s enforcement powers will include:
issuing fines of up to £18m or 10% of global revenue (by comparison, greater than the Information Commissioner’s Office powers under the UK GDPR);
issue provisional notices of contravention and, upon confirmation, may require compliance steps or impose penalties, which can be significant.
Criminal sanctions, service restriction orders, and access restriction orders are also available for non-compliance.
Directors and officers may be held liable for offenses committed by the service provider.
Although the Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent during 2023, the timeline as to when the provisions will come into force is still unclear.