Online Safety Bill: What Website Owners Should Know
What is the UK Online Safety Bill?
The Online Safety Bill is a new UK law brought before Parliament in March 2022. Parliament's intention as a world-leading body will make the UK the safest place for Internet users.
According to the new law, all websites, including social media platforms, are responsible for identifying and removing harmful or criminal content from their websites. In addition, OFCOM, the UK telecommunications regulator, will be responsible for informing social media platforms about what they can and cannot show to UK users.
The Online Safety Bill introduces methods to give Internet users greater control over who they can contact and what they see online. For example, it requires all sites that post or host pornographic content to verify that users are at least 18 years old. In addition, it tackles online offenses like cyber flashing, which were previously a gray area in UK legislation, and will now be considered total criminal offenses.
The Online Safety bill is part of our series of articles about age verification.
In this article:
Details of the Online Safety Bill Regulation
The Online Safety Bill introduces legal precautions for providers of online user-to-user platforms and search services. However, these precautions involve broad and complex obligations and use a risk-based approach that can make it difficult for providers to understand what content or activity they should block.
Ofcom is responsible for:
- Monitoring activity on these websites and enforcing the law.
- Creating risk assessment profiles, considering the risk of harm to users of regulated online services and the dangers posed by illegal and harmful content to children and adults.
- Creating a risk profile for each type of regulated service based on the characteristics of the service, including capabilities, user base, business model, governance, and systems.
- Requesting information from anyone it believes can help it decide how to perform or perform its obligations.
- Publish reports on compliance failures, with authority to compel providers to participate in interviews or provide information.
These risk profiles will be critical for service providers, as they will define what they can and cannot legally display to users.
Ofcom enforcement powers
Under the law, Ofcom can issue enforcement notices to service providers and individuals. These enforcement notices must state which legal requirements the recipient failed compliance. If there is no resolution, Ofcom submits an interim notification and then finalizes it.
If a violation is not corrected, Ofcom can decide on a penalty of up to 10% of worldwide revenues or £18 million, whichever is greater. Perhaps more significantly for large social media providers, Ofcom can apply to the courts for a service access restriction to avoid harming individuals in the UK until the requirements are complete.
Online Safety Bill: Who is Affected?
Because the OSB is in its early days, some of its definitions are not entirely clear. The OSB applies to two categories of online services:
- User-to-user service
- Search service
Services are bound by the OSB, as they have a "link to the UK" and are not exempt from the law.
What is a User-to-user Service?
The OSB defines a user-to-user service as:
"[an] Internet service employing which content that is generated by a user of the Service or uploaded to or shared on the service by a user of the service, maybe encountered by another user, or users, of the service."
This definition is extensive and covers websites, mobile apps, and other software that enables the communication between users, whether it requires payment from users.
What is a Search Service?
The OSB defines a search service as:
"[an Internet service that is or includes a search engine and is not a user-to-user service."
This definition is also comprehensive and includes anything that allows users to search a website or database. "Searching" can consist of inputting texts, images, or speech or retrieving content via tags or metadata.
Which Services are Exempt?
As of the time of this writing, the following services in the OMB legislation as exempt:
- User-to-user services where the only user-generated content is emails, SMS, MMS, or a combination of these.
- User-to-user services where users can only post comments or reviews on content produced and published by the provider (called "below the line" content).
- User-to-user services where the only content users can share is one-to-one live audio communication. This exemption does not apply if the service enables written messages, videos, or images.
- User-to-user services or search services provided by public organizations.
- User-to-user services or search services used internally by businesses (for example, internal message boards and search engines).
The Secretary of State has the authority to add additional exemptions in the future or remove existing exemptions.
Online Safety Bill: How to Comply
Codes of Practice
The OSB legislation states that Ofcom must publish Codes of Practice describing steps for compliance. Services will be considered compliant if:
- They take the steps described in the Code of Practice
- Terrorism and Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (CSEA) content is not prevalent in the service
fcom will draft the Codes of Practice in consultation with representatives of services providers, users, and interest groups, making it possible for these groups to influence the recommendations.
In the meantime, the UK government has published interim codes of practice, which service providers can voluntarily follow to ensure they do not include terrorism and CSEA content.
The UK government has published a set of guidance documents for online safety. These are not related to the OSB but are likely to be similar to the steps required in future Codes of Practice. Service providers can review them to prepare for future compliance.
Measures suggested by the guidance documents include:
- Requiring users to verify ownership of their accounts.
- Using age verification technology to verify user age.
- Providing the highest level of user safety by default (for example, turning location off by default and showing content shared by a user only to their direct contacts).
- Limiting functionality for children or preventing children from removing high safety settings.
- Enabling users to report harmful material and prompting users to report suspicious activity.
- Using automated technology, supported by human moderators, to identify illegal and harmful content.
- Encouraging users to review settings periodically.
- An official or trustworthy source fact-checks labeling content.
- Preventing algorithms from recommending harmful content.
OSB Compliance with BlueCheck
BlueCheck achieves this balance by combining a sleek, field-tested user interface with a robust verification engine that connects to a network of authoritative databases and credit bureaus. In addition, we partner with companies in various industries and growth stages to provide affordable, reliable online age verification. Learn more about how BlueCheck can help you solve your age verification challenges!