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UK Parliament Introduces Internet Online Safety Bill

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MPs have introduced an updated draft of an Online Safety Bill, which now includes provisions to target social media and tech firms accused of exposing users to harmful content, it was revealed on Thursday.

According to the bill, British online regulator Ofcom could slap tech firms with penalties up to 10 percent of global annual revenues, or £18 million, as well as top tech executives with jail time up to six months.

The world-first legislation has also updated several crucial features after lawmakers published its first draft in May last year, which include:

  • Combatting online fraud such as paid-for scam adverts in search engines and social media
  • Enforcing strict checks to verify users accessing pornography are aged 18 and over
  • Cracking down on anonymous trolls to restrict their actions
  • Pressuring companies to take quicker, more proactive steps to tackle illegal and harmful content as well as criminal activity
  • Criminalising cyberflashing, or the process of sending nude photos or other offences, with prison sentences up to two years

Nadine Dorries, UK Digital Secretary said that, despite the internet connecting and empowering its users, “tech firms haven’t been held to account when harm, abuse, and criminal behaviour have run riot on their platforms” but had instead “been left to mark their own homework.”

She added it was only “sensible” to provide similar basic protections for the digital age and that failing to act could sacrifice the “wellbeing and innocence” of generations of young people to the “power of unchecked algorithms.”

She added,

“Since taking on the job I have listened to people in politics, wider society and industry and strengthened the Bill, so that we can achieve our central aim: to make the UK the safest place to go online”

Mishcon de Reya Law Firm Comments on Online Safety Bill

Emma Woollcott, Partner and Head of the Reputation Protection and Crisis Management team at Law Firm Mishcon de Reya, said in a statement sent to XR Today that Westminster’s plans to tackle online safety issues had taken a “significant step forward.”

She continued, stating,

“It is clear that careful attention has been paid to feedback from Parliament and wider society on a range of important issues such as anonymity, cyber flashing and revenge porn, hate crime and scam adverts. The Bill will need to be carefully scrutinised by Parliament to ensure that it protects victims of online harms, whilst also safeguarding freedom of expression”

According to Woollcott, commentators had focused on the bill’s goal of holding tech giants accountable, but added established social media platforms and internet search engines had prepared for such measures for many years, presenting challenges to the bill.

The potential friction between tech firms and the UK government could affect roughly 24,000 firms, who would need to conduct further risk assessments to “avoid significant fines and potential criminal penalties,” she added.

“It appears a range of new criminal offenses have been added to the Bill, which could find senior managers at such companies criminally liable for destroying evidence, failing to attend or providing false information to Ofcom and/or obstructing the regulator when it enters the company’s offices”

Mishcon de Reya currently holds offices in London and Singapore, as well as an association with Karas LLP, according to its website.

Meta Hits Back at Claims, Launches Safeguards

The news comes after Digital Minister Nadine Dorries and Damian Collins, Chair of the UK Parliament Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill, recently commented on the strict legislation, following the death of a young woman allegedly exposed to harmful content.

Dorries slammed Meta at a parliamentary hearing in November for allegedly failing to protect its online user base, stating at the time “rebranding doesn’t work. When harm is caused, we are coming after it.”

Shareholders, including a consortium of investor groups, have also urged Meta to tackle online harm and hate speech, as well as assess risks for its Metaverse ambitions, according to reports.

Meta has repeatedly and strongly denied claims it failed to secure its social media products, noting it had taken substantial measures to protect online users and invested $50 million USD to “ethically” develop the future spatial communications platform.

The Menlo Park-based firm also announced additional features such as personal boundaries for avatars on its Horizons Platforms, namely after a woman reportedly said she was virtually and verbally assaulted in the first minute of her beta test on the virtual space. Microsoft followed using similar updates for its AltspaceVR platform to prevent online abuse or assault.

The tech giant also revealed it planned to build the world’s largest supercomputer, the Research SuperCluster, to employ complex artificial intelligence (AI) deep learning neural networks aimed at monitoring and detecting harmful content in real-time, as well as vastly improving its services.

 

 

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