Below TIGA has summarised answers to some of the key questions following the publication of the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill’s report.
- How does or might the current proposal affect the games industry?
All companies where children are likely to access their services will be required to provide additional protections for children using them. Accordingly, some video games businesses will be impacted by the Online Safety Bill. The Bill imposes new and significant responsibilities on regulated service operators to monitor the content that is published and shared on their platforms by users and to act if it is illegal or harmful to others. Companies will have a duty to undertake risk assessments concerning the content that is illegal or harmful to children and in some cases harmful to adults in addition to monitoring and moderating such content.
- What must games companies be aware of about the bill in its current form, in terms of the type of checks and security measures they need in their games to protect young users?
The Bill will place a duty of care on companies to protect children, more explicit standards will be set and Ofcom will have powers to investigate and fine companies that fail to do so. The Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill, which is chaired by Damian Collins MP, has recommended that tech companies should appoint a ‘safety controller’ who will be made liable for an offence under the legislation if there were repeated failures to protect children. They also demanded more offences be classed as illegal such as cyber flashing, content promoting self-harm or the deliberate sending of flashing of images to people with epilepsy. Moreover, the Committee’s report recommended that Ofcom be given more powers to investigate, audit and fine tech companies and that mandatory codes of practice for internet service providers should be drawn up. In terms of non-compliance, the maximum penalty levied is capped at whichever is higher of £18 million or 10% of qualifying worldwide turnover. The Government has also reserved the right to impose criminal sanctions on non-compliant service providers, where they fail to comply with Ofcom.
- At this stage, what (if anything) can games companies do to ensure the bill does not impact the industry too much, e.g. is there any way to further proof the responsibility games take when protecting young users?
Ofcom will consult with interested parties when preparing the specific codes of practice for providers of Regulated Services. Games companies should engage in this consultation process to offer their perspective. Games companies should be aware of the timings of the Bill, the Government has two months to respond to the Committee’s recommendations. The framework provisions of the Bill including definitions and interpretation will come into effect once the Bill receives Royal Assent. However, other provisions in the Bill such as the duties which the Bill creates will only come into force through secondary legislation, it is not clear when this will be. Games companies likely to be affected by the Bill could consider undertaking risk assessments and begin establishing processes for complying with the forthcoming legislation.
- What could/should games companies be doing to prepare for the passing of this bill?
Gaming companies should be aware of the new range of enforcement powers from Ofcom and be aware of the sanctions in place for non-compliance. The primary responsibility for games companies will be to take action to prevent user-generated content or activity on their services from causing significant harm to others, either physically or psychologically. Companies will be expected to complete a risk assessment of their services and take reasonable steps to reduce the risk of harm they identified in their assessment. Companies will be expected to put in place systems and processes that improve user safety on their services, such as content moderation. All companies will also need to have effective and accessible reporting mechanisms, for reporting harm if and when this occurs.
- What other information should the video games industry be aware of?
TIGA supports the Government’s plan to establish a new statutory duty of care to make companies take more responsibility for their users. Social media is the leading source for where online harms take place in the UK. Video games companies that are within the scope of the regulatory framework must fulfil their duty of care and comply with the new legislation. The Government must ensure that the new regulatory framework protects online users from harm whilst ensuring that the UK is the best place to start and grow a digital business.