• Contact Us

Online Safety Bill Makes Its Journey Through to Parliament

on Tuesday, 22 February 2022.

The use of social media networks and video sharing platforms has exploded over the last decade, resulting in the introduction by the UK Government of the revolutionary Online Safety Bill (OSB).

Whilst primarily looking to target companies that deliver user-generated content (UGC), such as Twitter/Facebook and also video sharing platforms, the OSB also imposes a duty of care on organisations to protect users from harmful content by:

  • preventing the production of illegal content and activity online
  • ensuring that children and adults who use their services are not exposed to content that is 'harmful' (although not illegal).

Ofcom will be the online safety regulator and is required to prepare codes of practice to assist providers in complying with their duties of care.

Which Organisations Will Be Caught?

The OSB will apply to 'user-to-user' services and to search engines. User-to-user services are those that do one or both of the following:

  • Host UGC that can be accessed by users in the UK.
  • Facilitate public or private online interaction between service users, one or more of whom is in the UK.

We have not been provided with any definition of 'user', but the following are identified as not users/falling outside the OSB:

  • internet service providers
  • low-risk businesses with limited functionality such as services where users can only communicate by posting comments/reviews
  • emails and text messages
  • one-to-one live aural communications
  • paid-for advertisements

Where Next for the OSB and How Can Universities Be Prepared?

In December 2021, the joint committee published a report recommending major changes to the draft OSB, including additional responsibilities for Ofcom, requiring service providers to conduct internal risk assessments and create an 'online safety policy', to which users must agree.

If accepted, these recommendations will be incorporated into the OSB before it makes its way to legislation.

The aim of the proposed legislation is to reach a balance between internet safety and the right to freedom of expression and privacy. As it currently stands, many unanswered questions remain not only in context of this tension but also arising from the various gaps in the bill. What is clear is that OSB potentially has wide-ranging application.

Universities with an online presence will need to scrutinise the online content and services they provide and consider the adoption of a proactive online safety policy, and put in place a process for ongoing risk assessments.

A version of this article first appeared in University Business on 27 January 2022.

For further information about the Online Safety Bill please contact Sarah Webb in our Commercial Law team on 07718 384 3737 or complete the form below.

Get in Touch

First name(*)
Please enter your first name.

Last name(*)
Invalid Input

Email address(*)
Please enter a valid email address

Please insert your telephone number.

How would you like us to contact you?

Invalid Input

How can we help you?(*)
Please limit text to alphanumeric and the following special characters: £.%,'"?!£$%^&*()_-=+:;@#`

See our privacy page to find out how we use and protect your data.

Invalid Input