Britain’s data protection and broadcasting regulators, the Information Commissioner’s Office and Ofcom, have published a joint Report looking into internet users’ concerns about online harms. The British government’s recently published White Paper, which outlined its approach for regulating the internet to tackle online harms, was informed by this Report.


Over 3,000 interviews were conducted with children and adults earlier this year. Demographic quotas were set to control for age, gender, region, social grade and urbanity.

Key takeaways

The Report found that nearly three in five British adults and four in five 12–15 year olds suffered at least one potential harm online in the previous 12 months. There were some differences between the harms experienced. Adults identified spam emails, fake news and scams/fraud as the main harms they face online. 12-15 year olds identified offensive language, spam emails, unwelcome friend requests and bullying as the harms they most commonly encounter.

The key concern raised by adult and teenage respondents concerned the exposure of children to bullying, abusive behaviour or threats online.

Adults were most concerned about the safety of children online, but other key concerns included:

  • data being stolen,
  • scams/frauds, and
  • their data being processed without consent.

Despite this, the majority of internet users – 61% of 12–15 year olds and 59% of adults – believe that the benefits of the internet outweigh the risks they face.

Interestingly, fake news and spam emails were two online harms where responses revealed a disparity between experiences and perceived threat. More adults identified these two harms as harms they have experienced, but, despite this, adults were less concerned about these harms.

Sources of online harm
Social media sites constitute the main sources of potential online harm identified by respondents. Nearly a quarter of respondents who use social media do not trust these sites to remove illegal, offensive or harmful material quickly. Once social media was taken into account, the sources of online harm also diverged between groups. Adults were more likely to experience online harm on search engines or instant messengers. Children were more likely to experience online harm on instant messengers, video-sharing sites/apps and while gaming.

Incidence of harm

12-15 year olds were found to be significantly more exposed to online harms than adults. The incidence of online harms experienced also dropped significantly for adults over 55.


Respondents perceive online media to be less regulated than other traditional media. Most adults believed that regulation for social media should be maintained or increased.


This Report and the recent White Paper provide helpful insight into the attitudes and motivations of internet users. The approach set out in the White Paper of creating a statutory duty of care by digital service providers is one of a number of regulatory initiatives under consideration. We expect further developments as the findings of this Report undergo further analysis and inform future regulatory proposals. In the meantime, keep an eye on this blog for further updates on this and other developments in relation to privacy regulation.