The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the Home Office, have jointly proposed the regulation of tech companies via a new independent regulator and code of practice for tech companies. The two have published the Online Harm White Paper. UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said “the era of self-regulation for online companies is over” and that voluntary action from industry to tackle online harms “have not been applied consistently or gone far enough.” The proposals are open for a 12-week public consultation that ends on July 1, after which DCMS will review and refine the white paper into a legislation. The proposal includes:

1. A new regulator: A new independent regulator will be introduced to ensure companies’ compliance with laws; the regulator will have the power to impose fines, block access to sites, and hold individual executives responsible for violation any new laws. Business Insider reports that the fines could reach billions of dollars for the biggest companies. The regulator may also have the power to force social media platforms to published annual transparency reports on harmful content and their measures to address it.

2. Duty of care on tech companies: Companies will be required to take steps to ensure users safety and tackle illegal and harmful activity on their services. The proposal seeks to tackle incitement of violence, encouragement of self harm, disinformation, cyber bullying, and children’s access to inappropriate content, among other things. The regulator will define a “code of best practice” to which social networks and internet companies must adhere.

3. Measures for online safety

  • Prevention of distribution of content containing child abuse and terrorist activity
  • Making companies respond to users’ complaints and address them quickly
  • Requirements to minimise the spread of misleading and harmful disinformation, with dedicated fact checkers, particularly during elections
  • Safety by design to help companies incorporate safety features into apps and platforms
  • Media literacy strategies to deal with harmful online behaviour like grooming, catfishing, and extremism.

Big Tech regulation worldwide

  • Google’s global public policy chief has called for “common rules of the road” globally and has said that he welcomes “convergence” of regulation across countries
  • US Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren announced a plan to break up large tech companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook
  • The UK itself has said that there is a need to overhaul anti-trust laws in technology
  • Google was fined a record €1.49 billion in Europe for antitrust violations in search ads brokering monopoly
  • Facebook is facing seven separate data protection-related inquiries in Ireland; a total of 16 cases target Twitter, Apple, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, and Instagram.