NEWS16 December 2020

Ofcom appointed online harms regulator

Legal Media News Public Sector Technology UK

UK – Ofcom will have the power to fine social media companies up to £18m for failing to protect users from harmful online content as part of new UK legislation on online safety. 

Someone scrolling through a blue mobile phone in the dark

The new regulatory framework will apply to companies whose services host user-generated content accessible by people in the UK or allow users to interact publicly or privately online.

Social networks such as Facebook, TikTok and Twitter will fall under the scope of the legislation, as well as online marketplaces and dating apps.

Search engines will also be subject to the regulations, while online journalism from news publishers’ websites will be exempt. The regulations will also not apply to business-to-business services or internet service providers.

The government has not yet defined ‘harm’ or what harmful content and activity the regulatory framework will cover – the forthcoming online safety bill will set out a general definition of what will be covered in the duty of care in 2021.

Ofcom will oversee and enforce compliance with the duty of care, which will require companies to have systems and processes in place to improve user safety.

As regulator, it will be able to fine companies failing in their duty of care up to £18m or 10% of their annual global turnover, whichever is higher. It will also be able to block non-compliant services from being accessed in the UK.

Ofcom will issue codes of practice to outline what these processes should look like. In the meantime, the government has issued interim codes of practice on the issues of terrorism and child sexual exploitation and abuse.

The government first announced its plans for a new regulatory framework for online safety in April 2019, when it launched consultation for its online harms white paper.

Digital secretary Oliver Dowden said: “This proportionate new framework will ensure we don’t put unnecessary burdens on small businesses but give large digital businesses robust rules of the road to follow.”