Written 24th November 2023 by Martha Odysseos
The Online Safety Act 2023 (the Act) received Royal Assent on Thursday the 26th October 2023. The Act aims to make the internet a safer environment for both adults and children. The Act creates a regulatory framework which will protect users from objectionable content. This means that online service providers, who were not previously regulated, will now be regulated by Ofcom.
The Act also introduces several new criminal offences into legislation including but not limited to the following:
- Sharing ‘deepfake’ pornography
- Making content that encourages or assists self-harm
Who does the Act apply to?
The Act applies to a wide range of online service providers including both ‘user to user services’ and ‘search services’ who have users in the UK. ‘User to user services’ are internet services where content can be generated/uploaded or shared by users and is encountered by other users. ‘Search services’ include search engines with a service or ability to enable people to search more than one website or database.
Ofcom’s initial analysis suggests more than 100,000 online services could be subject to the new rules.
The Act imposes duties on businesses who will need to ensure they have systems and processes in place to improve user safety. The Act specifically puts the onus on businesses to protect children from some legal but harmful material.
Platforms must show that they are committed to removing illegal content including:
- Child sexual abuse
- Extreme sexual violence
- Content promoting self-harm
- Revenge porn
- Inciting violence etc
Platforms will also have to enforce age limits and age checking measures to ensure harmful or age-inappropriate content isn’t seen by children.
What do you need to do?
Companies will need to assess and manage safety risks arising from content and conduct on their sites and apps.
Most service providers will need to carry out some form of action to comply with these duties such as:
- Risk assessments
- Take active steps to manage and mitigate any risk
- Provide means for users to report illegal or harmful content
How will it be regulated?
The Online Safety Act gives powers to Ofcom to act as the online safety regulator.
If businesses fail to meet their new obligations Ofcom will be able to fine companies up to £18 million or 10% of their qualifying worldwide revenue, whichever is greater. Criminal action will be able to be taken against senior managers who fail to follow information requests from Ofcom or if the provider fails to comply with Ofcom’s enforcement notices.
In the most serious cases, Ofcom will also be able to require payment providers, advertisers and internet service providers to stop working with a site.
As enforcement of the Act is in Ofcom’s hands, they will be publishing draft guidelines and codes of practice which will detail how they intend to enforce the new duties. They will be asking businesses to engage in their consultations in order to help shape how Ofcom will enforce the Act.
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Martha joined the firm in April 2021 after completing an internship at Olliers in the summer of 2020. She was initially a part of the Litigation Support team before starting her training contract in September 2021.