DCMS pushes for Ofcom to become the regulator of ‘online environments’

The UK government has published its initial white paper on its proposed ‘Online Harms Bill, putting forward new regulations that will make tech companies responsible for their online environments. 

Presenting the white paper to Commons yesterday, UK Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden (DCMS) stated that “trust in tech is falling… that’s bad for the public, and it’s bad for the tech companies”.

Dowden remarked that the UK would develop ‘a world-leading regime to restore public trust and confidence’ in online companies, who will be placed under a ‘duty of care to their users overseen by media and broadcast regulator Ofcom.

Initial white paper proposals would see Ofcom become the regulator of online content, given new powers to penalise and block access to digital platforms deemed to be inefficient at protecting users from online harms.  

Grabbing yesterday’s headlines was the proposal that tech companies would “face steep fines of up to £18 million or 10 percent of annual global turnover”.

DCMS proposals have garnered a mixed reaction with regards to how Ofcom will monitor and judge complexities in relation to online abuse, content and user behaviour against the tricky balance of common public expression.  

Furthermore, would government regulations fair better than tech giants who have spent vast resources tackling these prominent issues across their platforms? DCMS stated that it would consult tech giants on guidance and evidence with regards to how new standards and safeguards are established.

Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom CEO, said: “Being online brings huge benefits, but four in five people have concerns about it. That shows the need for sensible, balanced rules that protect users from serious harm, but also recognise the great things about online, including free expression.

“We’re gearing up for the task by acquiring new technology and data skills, and we’ll work with Parliament as it finalises the plans.” 

A bill monitoring online environments was first proposed under the premiership of former PM Theresa May, designed to place responsibility on tech giants to monitor sexual abuse imagery, terrorist materials, misinformation, and further user conduct.

Online safety played a prominent role during last year’s Christmas Snap Election, as the Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and SNP parties vowed in their campaign manifestos to rewrite Britain’s digital codes ushering new standards and protections.

UK gambling stakeholders should monitor the progress of wider digital regulatory developments, as DCMS begins its evidence and consultation process of the 2005 Gambling Act authorised last week.

Corporate conduct and care-of-duty have been earmarked as key remits that will be probed by DCMS, who stated that UK gambling required a re-wiring of its relationships with wider business, sports and local communities.

The department will further review the duties and performance of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) as the governing agency of gambling. In its policy documents, DCMS said that it wanted the UKGC to capitalise on wider sets of data and intelligence to govern licensed incumbents and evaluate the regulatory outcomes of the sector.

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