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Top tech bosses to be held personally liable under UK Online Safety Bill update

Westminster Bridge and Big Ben at night

The UK government has outlined new updates to the Online Safety Bill designed to help protect people when they go online. Some of the new measures include higher age verification standards on adult websites and making it easier for coroners to access children’s social media to help determine the cause of death.

The Online Safety Bill is a massive, far-reaching, piece of legislation but it’s most well-known for introducing age verification on adult websites. In a new update to the bill, the government says it will require a new higher standard for screening people by age.

It said that bosses of these websites will have to ensure that the verification tools they use are “highly effective” in establishing the age of a user trying to access the website. It also said that top tech executives will be held personally responsible if they fail to keep children safe on their platforms - this also means protection from suicide, self-harm, or eating disorder content.

Minister for Technology and the Digital Economy Paul Scully said:

“This Government will not allow the lives of our children to be put at stake whenever they go online; whether that is through facing abuse or viewing harmful content that could go on to have a devastating impact on their lives.

To prevent any further tragedy and build a better future for our children, we are acting robustly and with urgency to make the Online Safety Bill the global standard for protecting our children.”

It also said the coroners and bereaved parents will be able to get easier access to the social media data of a deceased child to help establish whether social media contributed to the death. The government said that coroners will be able to request the data via Ofcom.

Not only does the bill seek to protect kids, but also adults. Under the latest changes, services will need to proactively offer all users the ability to hide content that promotes self-harm, eating disorders, or content that’s abusive on the basis of race or religion.

Tech firms won’t be able to bury these controls in the settings menu, instead, they should be put in front of users so they can easily make informed choices. While it may seem like overreach to protect adults, it’s important to remember there are adults with eating disorders who may relapse into that behaviour if exposed to content.

Other changes in the bill give Ofcom the power to take action against app stores where they allow children to access harmful content, there is also a 2-year maximum sentence offence for threatening to share intimate images.

Under the updates, Ofcom will also have to boost the public’s ability to identify disinformation and publish measures that services can take to reduce the risk of harm to women and girls. Ofcom will work with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and Victims Commissioner when producing the guidance.

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