The UK government recently published its response (Government Response) to a House of Lords committee report (Committee Report) discussing prospective regulation of digital services facilitated by the internet.
The Government Response largely accepts the key recommendations of the Committee Report, and finds the Committee Report is closely aligned with the government’s preferred approach. The Government Response also refers to the objectives identified in its recently published Online Harms White Paper.
We summarise some of the key recommendations of the Government Response and the differences between the Government Response and Committee Report:
- The Government Response reaffirms the principles set out in the Digital Charter.
- The Government Response also confirms that the government will establish a central regulatory body which will coordinate internet regulation and oversee and enforce a new statutory duty of care.
- An additional duty of care will be imposed on online platforms to ensure that they have adequate risk management procedures in place. The duty is designed to make companies take more responsibility for user safety online and tackle harm caused by content or activity on their services.
- The principles set out in the Committee Report are affirmed. In particular, the Government Response draws attention to initiatives in place to increase digital literacy and sets out the role of the newly created Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation in shaping future guidance for industry.
- The Committee Report suggested that companies should keep a record of the time each user spends using their services. The Government Response does not go so far as the Committee Report. The Government Response finds insufficient evidence to link screen-based activities and negative effects. However, the Government Response does leave the door open for future regulatory intervention in this area. In the meantime, companies will be expected to support the development of research in this area by providing anonymised data to researchers.
- Similarly, the Government Response on market concentration did not go as far as the Committee Report recommendation. The Committee Report recommended the introduction of a public-interest test when assessing possible mergers between digital service providers. This will sit alongside the Competition and Markets Authority’s existing tests when assessing possible mergers. The new test would focus on the accumulation of data in order to prevent the creation of data monopolies.
- The Government Response disagrees with the Committee Report recommendation for companies to publish annual data transparency statements. The Government Response states that it is sufficient for companies to publish GDPR-compliant privacy notices.
- One of the headline recommendations in the Committee Report was the prospective use of a labelling scheme for social media in order to moderate content. This labelling scheme would have been overseen by Ofcom, the UK’s broadcasting and telecommunications regulator. The Government Response is not clear about whether it agrees with this approach. However, the government has not ruled out the potential use of a labelling scheme in the future.
As we indicated in our post on the Committee Report, many of the initial recommendations are already achieved by existing laws or present serious implementation issues. The Government Response has helped modulate many of the Committee Report’s recommendations although more detail will be required before pen is put to statute paper. The Committee Report and Government Response offer an interesting insight into potential regulatory developments that all companies in the online space need to be aware of. We will keep you posted on future developments.