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Queen's Speech 2022: Online safety bill carried over

Queen's Speech 2022: Online safety bill carried over
Prince Charles, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Prince William proceed behind the Imperial State Crown for the State Opening of Parliament (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

The online safety bill will continue to proceed through parliament after being mentioned in the Queen's Speech.

The bill, which was introduced into parliament in March this year, is currently at the committee stage in the House of Commons. 

It requires social media platforms, search engines and other apps and websites to protect children and tackle illegal activity, all while maintaining freedom of speech.

Ofcom, the industry regulator, will also be given the power to fine companies up to 10 per cent of their annual global turnover if they do not comply with the laws. 

Matt Burton, chief risk officer at Quilter said reports suggest a risk of "rebellion" over the kinds of posts social media companies will be required to take action on.   

However, he said it is no exaggeration to say that customers of financial services have faced a fraud epidemic, with very few protections in place to stop harmful content from appearing online and that must be clamped down on sooner rather than later.

“For far too long the onus has been on diligent individuals and financial services providers to identify scam adverts and report them to search engines, the regulator and the police instead of the search engines undertaking basic due diligence to filter out fraudulent adverts in the first place.

"This bill is the perfect opportunity to require search engines and social media platforms to remove sham investment and impersonation scams promptly from their sites, and conduct the necessary due diligence to stop them from appearing.”

Updates

The bill has been updated a number of times since the first draft was published in May 2021.

Changes include bringing paid-for scam adverts on social media and search engines into scope, after intense pressure from a coalition of consumer groups, charities and financial services industry bodies.

The bill has also been updated to bring forward the time within which executives would be liable for prosecution. In the previous draft of the bill, executives whose companies fail to co-operate with Ofcom’s information requests could now face prosecution or jail time within two months of the bill becoming law, instead of two years.

The government has also launched a consultation on proposals to tighten the rules for the online advertising industry. This includes tougher rules and sanctions for harmful or misleading adverts, or those for illegal activities such as weapons sales.

Influencers failing to declare they have been paid to promote products on social media platforms could also be subject to stronger penalties.

sally.hickey@ft.com