What’s the Latest on the UK’s Online Safety Bill?
The UK government’s commitment to improving online safety has become a hot topic in recent years, as digital spaces increasingly occupy more of our daily lives. As the online landscape continues to evolve, so too has the need to make sure that measures are put in place to protect those of us who interact with it. One potential solution to this is the introduction of the Online Safety Bill, which the government intends to use to implement what it considers to be effective measures, such as the requirement for IDs to access adult websites. However, although these rules and regulations may seem productive on paper, the question of their practical implementation remains.
In this post, we’ll look at what the Online Safety Bill is, whether its implementation is a realistic goal, when it would be launched, and what industries would be impacted by its presence.
What Is the Online Safety Bill?
The Online Safety Bill is a piece of legislation that was proposed by the UK government and contains a set of new laws that would aim to protect both children and adults online. Notably, a recent Online Harms White Paper concluded that existing regulatory initiatives have “not gone far or fast enough” to keep users safe.
Protection for Children
One of the biggest focuses of the bill involves the legal responsibility of online companies to protect children on their platforms, including the following requirements:
- Quickly removing illegal content, such as those promoting self-harm.
- Preventing children from accessing age-inappropriate content.
- Implementing age-checking measures.
- Publishing risk assessments.
- Providing easy ways to report online issues.
Protection for Adults
For adults, the bill contains further protections, including the following points:
- Preventing illegal activities from taking place on platforms, as well as quick removal of illegal content.
- Category 1 platforms, which refers to the largest and high-risk platforms, must act to remove content that violates terms and conditions.
- Category 1 platforms must allow users to control the content they can see, as well as their interactions with other users.
It should be noted here that the bill isn’t already in place and is currently being looked over by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport.
Is the Legislation Realistic?
In theory, the objectives outlined in the Online Safety Bill make sense and would certainly help to improve safety for both children and adults online or using apps. However, we’re talking about the online world here, and it’s no exaggeration to state that it is massive. Therefore, the problem with a bill like this is the enforcement of such comprehensive regulations.
For example, consider the moderation of content on social media platforms that have millions of users. Real-time monitoring and moderation to ensure any illegal content is removed quickly is no easy task.
Furthermore, there is a worry that this type of bill could become an overreach on behalf of the UK government with the potential to lead to unwarranted censorship. It seems, therefore, that there would need to be a fine balance between ensuring safety for children and adults online and not encroaching on freedoms.
When Would the Legislation Start?
The exact date from which the Online Safety Bill would start remains to be seen but there are some reports that it could happen in 2023. Currently, the bill is being evaluated by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, and this is something that could take some time.
Furthermore, it’s worth considering that it could take some time for online companies to implement any necessary changes once the bill is approved. There would likely be some form of grace period for companies because major changes could be required to their sites and platforms.
What Industries Would Be Impacted?
Several industries would be impacted by the regulations set out in the Online Safety Bill, including the following
Social Media Platforms
Social media platforms will be held legally responsible for the safety of users. Therefore, they will be required to remove illegal content quickly, prevent children from accessing age-inappropriate material, enforce age-checking measures, and publish risk assessments surrounding potential dangers.
The online gambling industry will need to adapt to the bill to comply with appropriate content clauses, which could involve ensuring that content does not encourage unsafe gambling practices, as well as not allowing children to see advertisements for products. Interestingly, as casino operators have been developing over the past year, they have already been voluntarily dropping more excessive bonuses, like 200% and 500%, and opting to go with more conservative like 100% matches.
Platforms that host or allow users to share content with be impacted heavily by the bill. They will be required to remove illegal content quickly, including child sexual abuse, sexual violence, hate crimes, content promoting self-harm, and so on. These platforms will also need to protect children from content that, although not illegal, could be harmful or age inappropriate.
Payment providers could be impacted because regulations could require them to stop working with non-compliant companies. For example, if a social media platform does not comply with the bill, payment providers may need to remove their payment options, which could lead to reduced revenue streams.
Likewise, marketing companies may be required to stop working with online websites that do not comply with the bill. Again, this will negatively impact their ability to generate revenue.
Age-Assurance Technology Providers
An industry that may see substantial growth includes age-assurance technology providers. As companies will be under pressure to ensure that children are shielded, it means that they will require sufficient age-checking features. Therefore, age assurance technology providers may see a steep rise in business.
Ultimately, the regulations proposed in the UK’s Online Safety Bill are mainly commendable and would certainly help to protect society online. However, there are still doubts about the ability to implement such industry-changing regulations when the online world is so big. Nevertheless, the bill does seem to be progressing, so we could soon discover whether it will have the desired impact.