What The Online Safety Act Means for Online Platforms

What The Online Safety Act Means for Online Platforms

The Online Safety Bill received royal assent on 26th October 2023, becoming law in the UK. The Act establishes a new regulatory framework aimed at enhancing internet safety for people in the UK. The Act means that Regulated services operating either social medial networking sites or search engines must promote online safety.

In this article, we'll explore what this means for online platforms and how they can navigate the changes imposed by the Act.

What Is a Regulated Service?

Regulated services have a duty under the Act to identify, mitigate and manage the risks of harm from illegal activity and specifically content that may be harmful to children. A Regulated service includes the following:

• An internet service where content is generated directly by a user on the platform or uploaded or shared by a user. The essence of this service lies in the interaction between users through content creation, sharing, or uploading (user-to-user service).
• Internet search engines with services that include a search engine providing users to search more than one website or database (search service).

A service falls under regulation if it has connections or links to the United Kingdom unless it's exempt under the Act. The Act determines these regulations based on factors like the number of UK users, whether UK users are a target market, and the potential risk of significant harm to individuals in the UK from the user-generated or search content on the platform.

Compliance Measures

The UK's independent telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has the statutory duty to impose the regulatory rules and enforce against unlawful content.

Regulated services must comply in evaluating the risks that users of their platforms may encounter and take appropriate action to mitigate or remove any illegal content that is identified.

Furthermore, larger services are required to publish an overview of their risk assessments, as part of new transparency requirements. Age verification solutions are required by Regulated services if they discover inappropriate or dangerous content on their platforms and take a proactive approach in actively enforcing age limitations.

Businesses that fail to comply could be subject to harsh penalties including the following:

• Fines of up to £18 Million or 10% of their global annual revenue, whichever is higher.
• Custodial consequences for senior managers and officers who fail to comply with information required by Ofcom and where such individuals have failed to take all reasonable steps to provide such information.
• Disruption measures imposed on such businesses to prevent user-access.

How Online Platforms Can Navigate the Changes

Whilst this is now law, online platforms will have time to comply with the changes as Ofcom plans to publish its code of practice over three phases which will be finalised in 2024.

On 9 November 2023, Ofcom published its first of four consultations on illegal harms. This consultation serves as an introduction to online safety duties including removing illegal content, managing risks, updating terms.

Ofcom is currently consulting on its draft Codes of Practice, which comprehensively outline its safety measures. These measures specifically target issues like child sexual abuse material, grooming, and fraud. Further regulations, detailed in secondary legislation, will specify how certain regulated services will be classified. These categorised services will then be subjected to more stringent obligations.

Service providers that are categorised as Regulated services need to prioritise online safety to ensure compliance and avoid penalties. There should be a focus on identifying and managing risks related to harmful content, ensure transparency in risk assessments and rigorously enforcing age restrictions where their platforms could show harmful content.

At GS Verde Law, our Commercial team offers practical guidance to navigate these new regulations by assisting businesses in understanding and meeting the requirements of the Online Safety Act.

As part of the GS Verde Group, our Commercial Law team are also able to provide valuable support on corporate transactions such as Mergers & Acquisitions or preparing businesses for exits by carrying out comprehensive Reverse Due Diligence.

To find out how GS Verde Law can assist your business in compliance with the Online Safety Act 2023, you can get in touch here

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