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Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
The writer is chief executive of Ofcom
When Tim Berners Lee, the web’s feted inventor, was asked to assess the greatest impact of being online, he replied “I hope we will use the net to cross barriers and connect cultures”.
And so we have. Today we are bound invisibly by fibre optics, satellite signals and radio waves. Global trade, entertainment and cultural exchange have been transformed by a technology that knows no borders.
But the same applies to harmful content. Many of the sites and apps we use across Europe are based in the US or Asia, others are closer to home. Some contain dangerous or illegal material, from child sexual abuse to terrorist hate speech.
That’s why countries around the world are placing duties on technology companies to tackle the problem. In the UK, the new Online Safety Act (OSA) has given us at Ofcom, the communications regulator, powers to create a safer life online and tackle illegal content. The EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) is pursuing similar goals. Together, these landmark pieces of legislation offer the chance for Europe to lead the world in tech regulation.
Ofcom has just received its new powers, and today we are publishing draft codes for protecting online users in the UK from illegal harm.
Children are our first priority. We want to see automatic detection and removal of child sexual abuse material, and much stronger measures to stop children accessing pornography. And we expect online services to take decisive steps to prevent youngsters from being exposed to dangerous content about suicide and self-harm.
For users of all ages, we will focus on deterring online fraud, as well as action to tackle terrorist content.
As we finalise the UK’s framework in the coming months, it’s vital that we work in harmony with our colleagues in the EU who are implementing the Digital Services Act. Otherwise, companies that come under both regimes could face conflicting standards or unworkable rules. That might hamper investment and innovation, as well as compliance. Ultimately, citizens of all our countries across the continent would lose out.
In many areas, the laws overlap. They largely cover the same kinds of companies, with different tiers of duties based on a service’s size and potential risk. Both focus on the design and governance of online platforms, rather than taking down content — together with protections for free speech. If companies fail to comply with either regime, they face possible fines.
But there are contrasts too. For example, the European rules cover some different areas to the OSA, such as consumer protection and illegal goods. The UK and EU approaches to risk assessments that companies must undertake, and the types of services in scope, also vary slightly.
So where the laws have different scope, it’s important that implementing them does not create conflicts for companies seeking to comply. Where they cross over, Ofcom wants the requirements placed on businesses by the two regimes to be as compatible as possible.
Working with European bodies will help us achieve that. And we have an even wider, global vision for online regulation to be consistent and effective. To help achieve it, we’ve co-founded an international network of digital regulators, stretching across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Pacific.
Online safety regulation may be relatively new, but the web has always been a global partnership, shaped by years of careful collaboration between regulators, governments, European and international bodies.
By continuing in that tradition, we can ensure the global tech industry takes greater care of online citizens the world over.