Comments on the Online Safety Bill

Posted on Wed, 30/03/2022

On 17 March 2022, the Online Safety Bill (OSB) was again put before Parliament for approval. The bill has been strengthened since its May 2021 draft and has been hailed by the government as a "milestone in the fight for a new digital age which is safer for users and holds tech giants accountable."

The OSB aims to establish a new way of regulating online content and will seek to remove material already illegal under law, such as images of child abuse, as well as material which is considered harmful to users. Alongside this, the OSB will introduce obligations on social media platforms, search engines, applications and websites to accept a heightened duty of care and to keep their users safe from illegal online activity.

Since the draft bill was published some notable changes have been made:

  • a duty for providers to take action to minimise the likelihood of fraudulent adverts being published on their service;
  • an increase in powers for Ofcom to ensure fast action can be taken against tech firms which fail to remove illegal content;
  • more measures to tackle online abuse by giving adults the option not to interact with unverified users on social media;
  • added provisions for Ofcom to recommend the use of tools for content moderation, user profiling and behaviour identification; and
  • the expansion of offences to include harm-based, false and threatening communications.

For those who fail to comply, Ofcom will have the power to fine companies up to 10 per cent of their annual global turnover and force them to improve their practices. Furthermore, for executives whose companies fail to comply, they risk prosecution or jail within two months of the OSB becoming law.

Up until this month, the OSB had only covered user-generated scams. However, after months of campaigning its scope now includes paid-for scam, adverts or 'spoof ads'. In practice, this means online platforms will be required to ensure there are systems in place to both prevent and remove spoof ads/ Given the recent epidemic of scam adverts and the impact these can have on consumers' finances, self-esteem and mental health, it is encouraging to see meaningful action being taken.

The extension of the OSB's scope has been welcomed by the insurance industry. Since spoof ads can be complicated and time consuming for insurers to monitor, the transfer of responsibility to online platforms to police these has been a well-received step forward. James Dalton, Director of General Insurance Policy at the Association of British Insurers (ABI), said: "We wholeheartedly welcome the changes to the Online Safety Bill and are pleased the government has listened to the many different sectors and organisations which have called for paid-for fraudulent adverts to be stopped on social media platforms and search engines." Dalton added that these changes are essential in order to "prevent vulnerable consumers being scammed and to ensure the bill meets its central objective of making the UK the 'safety place in the world to be online'."

The OSB will need to ensure Ofcom has the support and resources it requires to hold companies to account and take strong enforcement action where necessary to ensure scam adverts no longer harm consumers. Alongside this, as suggested by Martin Lewis, founder of, further action must be taken to ensure that any gaps and loopholes available for scammers to exploit are identified and eliminated.

Nevertheless, the changes made to the OSB in recent months will have a huge impact on the safety of millions of consumers. The Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO) will continue to monitor the OSB's progress through Parliament and advocate for consumers to be further protected from spoof advertisements and poor online behaviour, including through our ongoing engagement with the Financial Conduct Authority and our joint work with the insurance sector on fraud and other matters.