The Online Safety Bill ("The Bill") is the Government’s manifesto to make the UK the safest place to be online whilst also protecting the freedom of expression. The introduction of the Bill will mean that more responsibility is on tech and social media giants to take appropriate steps to reduce and eliminate fraudulent activity that consumers are at risk to. This means more protection for brands where their Intellectual Property is targeted and infringed upon especially in scenarios of scam advertisements.
Latest update: 17th March 2022
When was it published? May 2021
What is it? Government’s manifesto to make the UK the safest place to be online whilst also protecting freedom of expression.
The Government has introduced the Online Safety Bill (“the Bill”) to ‘stamp out’ fraudsters and scammers in a bid to strengthen online safety for users.
Search engines and platforms which host user-generated content, video-sharing or live streaming will have a duty of care to protect users of their services from fraud committed by others. The Bill will bring fraudulent paid for adverts on social media and search engines into scope, whether they are controlled by the platform itself or an advertising intermediary. The Bill is focused on holding tech giants accountable and forcing them to react more quickly to content that is harmful to consumers.
Companies will need to put in place systems and processes to prevent the publication or hosting of fraudulent advertising on their service and remove it when they are made aware of it. This will mean companies will have to take a more pro-active approach to protecting users from scams, financial promotions (amongst other things) such as ‘boosted’ social media posts by users which they pay to have promoted.
OFCOM is the independent regulator for the enforcement of the Bill. The regulator will have the power to take ‘tough enforcement action’ against companies that fail to comply via imposing fines of up to £18m or 10% of global annual turnover. OFCOM is still to set out further details on what companies need to do to prevent and catch these forms of advertisements. The new measures are expected to include requiring companies to scan for scam ads before they are uploaded, checking identities of people posting ads and ensuring financial promotions are only made by companies authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
In line with the Bill, the Government also launched a public consultation into its Online Advertising Programme which is currently overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) under a system of self-regulation. The consultation will look at current regulations and regulators to analyse whether they are properly empowered and funded to combat harmful advertising. The Government intends on releasing proposals to reform at the end of 2022.
Relevant Chapters (full text here)
Relevant provisions of the Bill that are applicable to the brand protection space are: Part 3 of the Bill which details duties of care on providers of regulated user-to-user services and regulated search services and requires OFCOM to issue codes of practice relating to some of those duties. For example, Chapter 5 imposes duties on providers of certain regulated user-to-user services and regulated search services relating to fraudulent advertising.
Next steps: The Bill is currently in the committee stage in the House of Commons. The introduction of the Bill will mean that more responsibility is on tech and social media giants to take appropriate steps to reduce and eliminate fraudulent activity that consumers are at risk to. This means more protection for brands where their Intellectual Property is targeted and infringed upon especially in scenarios of scam advertisement. It is a prime example that the UK Government are taking steps to bring legislation into the 21st century by holding platforms more accountable whilst giving IP owners and Internet users more protection. However, it is not without its limitations and IP issues such as counterfeit goods, piracy and or other IP-related crimes remain to be specifically addressed by future legislation.
April 2022: Committee stage in the House of Commons
Implementation into UK law in late 2022, early 2023