It’s been in the works for years, but the Online Safety Bill looks set to become law early this year, as legislators look to make the internet a safer place for users.
The bill will give Ofcom new powers to fine sites up to 10 per cent of their annual worldwide turnover, or even block them from being accessible in the UK if they fail to follow the new rules.
Bosses of these websites could also be held criminally liable if they fail to cooperate with Ofcom.
Among the changes will be the requirement for porn websites to verify users are at least 18 years of age in a bid to protect children from graphic content.
Following a draft of the bill set out in May 2021, the document has also been strengthened, with a report from the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill proposing a raft of changes.
Here is a brief summary of some of the proposed changes to the Online Safety Bill..
Age verification for porn sites
Pornography sites will be required to verify users’ ages to confirm they are at least 18 before accessing explicit content under the new rules.
Firms could use age verification technology to confirm a user possesses a credit card and is therefore at least 18, or use a third-party service to confirm someone’s age against government data.
Companies and sites will be able to decide how best to comply with the new rules, but Ofcom is expected to recommend the use of certain age verification technology.
A report from the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill has also urged ministers to criminalize paid-for scam and fraudulent advertising.
This call has been championed by Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis, whose name and image has been used in social media and email scams to con users into phoney investments and energy products, among other schemes.
Martin even gave evidence to the Joint Committee for the bill, warning that it was still “not urgent enough” to “stem the rise” of people falling victims to online scams.
As a result, the Treasury Committee is now calling for the inclusion of paid-for scam adverts within the scope of the bill, and for online platforms to be held responsible for reimbursing victims of scams promoted on their platforms.
The report also called for greater protection for users against harmful content, with the criminalization of cyber-flashing, content promoting self-harm, and the deliberate sending of flashing images to people with photosensitive epilepsy.
It also called for references to harmful “content” to be changed to “regulated content and activities,” in order to ensure that it referred to how the design of certain platforms can harm users.
It will even provide a new list of criminal content for tech firms to remove as a priority, with extra measures to force social media companies to stamp out the most harmful illegal content and criminal activity on their sites quicker.
The list includes online drug and weapons dealing, people smuggling, revenge porn, fraud, promoting suicide and inciting or controlling prostitution for gain.
New criminal offenses will also be added to the bill to tackle domestic violence, revenge porn, and threats to rape and kill, according to gov.uk.
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