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The Parliament in the UK has passed the long-awaited Online Safety Bill, marking a significant step towards making the internet safer for everyone, especially kids.
The new regulations will hold social media platforms accountable for the content they host.
Online Safety Bill Summary
The UK government has announced that once the new bill becomes law, platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, WhatsApp, and Facebook will be more responsible for user safety.
They will be obligated to:
- Take down illegal content
- Ensure kids can’t access inappropriate material
- Introduce age limits and age-checking measures
- Provide clear ways for parents to report disturbing content
- Offer more transparency (by publishing risk assessments, for example)
- Prevent non-consensual sharing of photos and intimate deepfakes
- Remove content depicting animal cruelty
Companies that fail to comply could face penalties as high as $22.3 million (£18 million) or 10% of their annual global turnover.
In some cases, those responsible for running the companies may even face time in prison.
Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said these rules will help the UK become the country with the world’s safest internet.
The government has confirmed that the Online Safety Bill will also apply to the Metaverse. It wants the scope of the law to be every place where people can interact online.
The bill was first proposed over four years ago and has gone through numerous changes since then.
Now, its focus is on providing extra protection for kids on the internet and removing harmful content.
The country’s media regulator Ofcom will be in charge of enforcing the new law. The watchdog will have the authority to impose fines on platforms that fail to comply with the regulations.
The UK Online Safety Bill is now awaiting approval from King Charles.
Ofcom will be able to start implementing the new rules as soon as final Royal Assent arrives.
WhatsApp threatening to leave the country
Even before the government passed the bill, Meta considered the idea of WhatsApp potentially leaving the UK market.
While the new laws are going to protect users even more, they put too much pressure on tech companies.
Platforms such as WhatsApp that have billions of users across the world will hardly change their practices because of small markets such as the UK.
While the EU is implementing rules similar to those in the Online Safety Bill, it’s a much larger and more valuable market to operate in.
The stance of tech giants is that user privacy is the key and that they shouldn’t have the ability to scan private messages.
They also argue that end-to-end encryption is crucial for preventing scams, fraud, and data breaches.
The problem for those in favor of the new laws is that this leaves room for sexual predators and terrorists to exchange content and go unnoticed.
While the country cannot let itself be held to ransom by tech companies, there are no UK-based alternatives to platforms such as WhatsApp.
Anticipating that the government will pass the Online Safety Bill, other companies have already started implementing new rules.