Government publishes Online Harms White Paper

By April 9, 2019 Press Releases

The Government has published an Online Harms White Paper setting out their plans for a package of online safety measures. The Government’s aim is to make the UK the safest place in the world to go online and the best place to start and grow a digital business.

In order to establish a ‘new statutory duty of care to make companies take more responsibility for the safety of their users and tackle harm’, the White Paper consists of a series of legislative and non-legislative measures. Some of the key proposals in the White Paper include:

  • The introduction of a new regulatory framework for online safety.
  • The introduction of an independent regulator who will implement, oversee and enforce the new regulatory framework. This may include the powers to issue fines and impose liability on individual members of senior management.
  • All companies in scope of the regulatory framework will need to be able to show that they are fulfilling their duty of care, doing so by following the new regulator’s codes of practice.
  • The regulator will have the power to require annual transparency reports from companies in scope, outlining the prevalence of harmful content on their platforms and what countermeasures they are taking to address these.
  • The regulator will encourage and oversee the fulfilment of companies’ existing commitments to improve the ability of independent researchers to access their data, subject to appropriate safeguards.
  • Companies may have to implement effective and easy-to-access user complaints functions; responding to complaints within the expected timeframe set out in the regulatory framework.
  • Companies will be encouraged to invest in the development of safety technologies to reduce the burden on users to stay safe online.
  • Development of a new online media literacy strategy, ensuring a coordinated and strategic approach to online media literacy education and awareness for children, young people and adults.
  • The regulator is expected to support research into online products which have been designed to encourage continuous use. Companies will be expected to be transparent about their designing practices which encourage extended engagement and be expected to engage with researchers.
  • The new regulator is expected to support research into the impact of screen time and different types of screen time on children’s development and wellbeing.

The White Paper defines the companies who will be subject to the new regulatory framework as those who ‘allow users to share or discover user-generated content or interact with each other online.’

What happens next?

A White Paper is a policy document produced by the Government that allows for further consultation with interested groups and for final changes to be made before a Bill is formally presented to Parliament.

This White Paper poses a series of questions open to individuals and organisations about the design of the new regulatory framework and non-legislative package. More information on ways to respond to the consultation can be found here.


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