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The Online Safety Act – Am I compliant?

The Online Safety Act – Am I compliant?

The Online Safety Act (The Act) received royal assent on 26 October 2023 and is now an active piece of legislation. The Act has been brought in with the aim of making online communication safer, and to regulate how companies ensure this safety for their online users. The goal is to protect everyone online with a particular interest in ensuring that children are kept safe from harmful content. Whilst this sounds easy enough on paper the truth is that there is still a long process ahead before we fully understand the impact this is going to have. 

The Act will apply to any business even if it is not a UK registered company so long as its website, app or any other online platform is accessible in the UK. The Act is there to regulate any website or app that provides search services and/or services that allow its users to post content online or to interact with each other. 

The Act imposes multiple duties on website and app owners including the duty to carry out risk assessments and a duty to ensure that there are processes in place to mitigate the risk of harmful content. This includes minimising the time any harmful content is present. Which duties will apply to you as a company, or a website owner will be dependent on what category of services you fall into. 

What we need to make clear is the Act, whilst in place, is far from finalised. Ofcom as the regulator has still to issue its guidance detailing which online services will fall into which category. The services with the highest risk will fall into category 1 and other services will fall into either category 2a or 2b. There are some duties, such as the duty to carry out illegal content risk assessments that will apply to any service that allows user to user interface. Other, more specific duties and obligations will only apply to businesses falling into category 1 services. However, these requirement do not come into force until three months from the date on which Ofcom issues its guidance on these points. 

The key thing to take away from the Act is that whilst there are going to be tougher requirements for some, such as social media websites and websites that are likely going to have users who are children or young people, any website or app where there is the option to communicate needs to be compliant. There are exemptions to some of the duties for public bodies. This means if you have the option for customers to comment, discuss, review or any other form of communication you will be caught by the requirements of this Act. Companies and website owners can receive fines of up to £18 million or 10% of their qualifying worldwide revenue, whichever is greater. So, ensuring compliance needs to be a priority.

What does this mean for companies and website owners right now? Well, as aforementioned the Act and its requirements are far from complete. What companies and website or app owners should be doing is ensuring that they have easily acceptable terms and conditions on their websites that deal with what content can and cannot be shared. They should also be looking at how they deal with users who post potentially harmful content. Finally, they should be keeping an eye out as Ofcom are hopefully going to release guidance in the coming months. We all know that change, especially change that requires action, can be daunting. However, thinking about the Act now and getting ready to introduce appropriate measures to make your website or app compliant will make this transition far easier in the longer term.

We understand that the Act has created an unclear legal landscape, and we are hopeful that over the course of the next year there will be significantly more clarity on its implications. We will be monitoring Ofcom’s communications and keeping our clients update to date with the relevant requirements. In the meantime, if you have any questions about how this Act may affect you or your business please contact us on 03330430350.

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About the author

Charlotte Cockburn
Charlotte Cockburn

Charlotte Cockburn

Senior Solicitor

Intellectual Property, Trade Marks

For more information, contact Charlotte Cockburn on +44 1383 665273.