At the start of this month the Government published the Online Harms White Paper. It sets out a new regulatory framework for online companies.
The new framework will apply to all companies that ‘allow users to share or discover user-generated content or interact with each other online.’ This means it will impact most online platforms, Social Media apps and online games.
The White Paper states that…
‘The government wants the UK to be the safest place in the world to go online, and the best place to start and grow a digital business.’
The vision is for a free, open and secure online environment, allowing for freedom of expression. It also states that it wants to renew trust in online companies and assist citizens in their ability to challenge unacceptable behaviours online and know where to go to get the help they need.
So what will this mean for tech companies?
Companies will be expected to take more responsibility for the safety of their users and deal effectively with any harmful content created on their platforms
An independent regulator will be established to oversee that companies are meeting their duty of care.
Large internet companies will have to be more transparent, providing reports that will be published online.
This could make it easier for parents & carers assess the potential risks that certain platforms may pose.
The independent regulator will also be able see complaints that have been logged against the online companies, and there will be an expectation that the companies will need to respond to complaints appropriately.
The independent regulator will also have the ability to levy fines on any companies that do not comply with the frame work and do not fulfil their duty of care.
Technology as Part of The Solution.
The White Paper also states that it believes developing further technologies will be part of the solution. It emphasises the responsibility of developing these technologies lies with the online companies.
In November 2018, the Home Secretary co-hosted an event with five big tech companies. They created a new tool that could deal with online grooming more effectively. This is an example of the kind of work that needs to be done more often. Companies will now need to demonstrate how they are investing in creating these new technologies.
There is also mention of a new online media literacy strategy to help improve education around internet safety for children, young people and adults.
The new framework that is outlined in the Online Harms White Paper shows a positive response to the challenges and risks the internet poses to UK's society and it's citizens.
This is now more needed than ever. Although the age limit on social media is 13, many primary aged students are already using these platforms. This is why we emphasise use of privacy settings and sharing responsibly in our internet safety workshops, particularly when working with upper KS2 students.
The Children and Parent's Media use and Attitude Report by Ofcom released at the start of this year showed a dramatic increase the number of young people recording themselves and using live streaming services.
Placing Government regulations on large internet companies will not be straightforward. However, if this White Paper means that tech companies could take a more proactive stance towards online risks that their users face, then it is definitely a step in the right direction. It indicates a positive move for internet safety in the UK.
The Government is also inviting feedback on how to implement and develop the framework. They have released a series of questions and are inviting individuals and organisations to provide their feedback and ideas.
To find a full list of the questions and to have your say follow this link to the Online Harms White Paper and click on Annex A: How to Respond to the Consultation.