Tech

Online Safety Bill risks stifling start-ups, says UK tech regulator chief

The UK’s new online safety law threatens to hit small businesses with new costs, according to the new chief executive of a group of online watchdogs who will be given more powers to force tech companies to protect users online.

Gill Whitehead, the first leader of the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF), a new group formed to streamline internet regulation, will play a key role in coordinating the implementation of the ambitious and controversial bill.

The bill, which passed a second reading in Parliament last week, includes measures to tackle a wide range of online harms, from bullying to child abuse. It also means executives of groups like Facebook-owner Meta and Google’s parent Alphabet face jail time for failing to comply with the new regime.

In her first interview since taking office last November, Whitehead warned that emerging startups could also struggle to comply with the upcoming law, stifling their ability to take on established tech giants.

“The online safety law could have an inherent competitive tension, as compliance with the bill comes with costs that smaller businesses might not be able to afford,” she said.

“If we don’t work through these things up front, we leave these tensions on the table and that slows things down for business. By working together, we can help accelerate it.”

The Online Safety Act is an attempt to force big tech companies to monitor their networks and make the UK a world leader in internet regulation. However, the law could result in higher costs for moderating content, as well as hefty fines for breaking the rules.

It comes as Brussels has warned that Twitter is owned by Elon Musk must comply with new EU regulations on moderating illegal and harmful online content after the billionaire entrepreneur $44 billion offer for the company was accepted. Whitehead, a former Google executive, said she was “genuinely interested” in seeing what Musk would do with the platform.

“When the helm of a tech company changes hands, it doesn’t change the fundamental things that regulators think about in terms of protecting users from harm, defending freedom of expression and fostering innovation,” she added.

Whitehead’s DRCF group was formed to coordinate the four existing regulators: the Competition and Markets Authority, the Financial Conduct Authority, the Information Commissioner’s Office and Ofcom.

Under the new UK regulatory regime, Ofcom will be able to do this verification algorithms that control users’ online experience. Ofcom said it would need £44million next year plus 300 additional staff to fulfill its obligations under the Online Safety Act, which Whitehead said presented a “challenge to recruit” due to the lack of talent across the tech sector.

On Thursday, the DRCF published a paper outlining ways to regulate algorithms using accredited external auditors, similar to those used by financial institutions. Whitehead advocates transparency about the outcomes of algorithms — for example, why a consumer may not be eligible for a mortgage or receive certain variable rates online.

“There are no clear standards [for algorithms]so there’s no consensus in the industry on how good looks are,” she said.

On emerging technologies like the Metaverse, Whitehead said the DRCF is watching closely to understand how the creation of virtual worlds full of avatars might be regulated.

“It’s the mantra of engineering to be fast and break things,” she said. “Our role is to get a really good understanding of the implications and implications of new technology, and then make sure we’re acting intelligently, effectively and proportionately. Because if you act too early, there is a risk that you will prevent important innovations.”

Online Safety Bill risks stifling start-ups, says UK tech regulator chief Source link Online Safety Bill risks stifling start-ups, says UK tech regulator chief

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