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Internet Companies Detail Concerns With Online Harms White Paper

London, UK – INTERNET COMPANIES have today outlined a number of ways in which the government’s Online Harms White Paper can be improved. In a new submission to government, Internet Association (IA) sets out how the plans as currently constituted could hold back the British tech sector, worsen the quality of internet services for ordinary consumers, undermine privacy, and have a negative effect on freedom of speech.

This is the first time internet companies have come together to outline their key areas of concern with the plans published by the government in April this year. Internet companies take significant action to address online harms, and there is much in the White Paper which the industry applauds and looks forward to working with ministers and others to deliver. But members of Internet Association are united in believing that there are five key areas where the White Paper’s proposals are unclear, need to be better defined or could have unintended negative consequences. In all these areas, the proposals risk limiting the benefits that the internet can offer to society and the economy – both now and in the future.

The paper sets out five key concerns held by internet companies:

  1. “Duty of Care” has a specific legal meaning that does not align with the obligations proposed in the White Paper, creating legal uncertainty, and would be unmanageable;
  2. The scope of the services covered by regulation needs to be defined differently, and more closely related to the harms to be addressed;
  3. The category of “harms with a less clear definition” raises significant questions and concerns about clarity and democratic process;
  4. The proposed code of practice obligations raise potentially dangerous unintended consequences for freedom of expression;
  5. The proposed measures will damage the UK digital sector, especially start-ups, micro-businesses and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and slow innovation.

IA’s Executive Director Daniel Dyball said: “Internet companies share the ambition to make the UK one of the safest places in the world to be online. But in its current form, the Online Harms White Paper will not deliver that.

“The proposals in the Online Harms White Paper present real risks and challenges to the thriving British tech sector, and will not solve the problems identified. Rather than emphasising how harms are only found online, we think a better approach would be a joined-up set of policies which acknowledge how many longstanding problems have roots in the “real world”, as well as online.

Dyball continued: “Internet companies believe that regulation can co-exist with a vigorous internet economy, and are committed to working with government to ensure that the services that the public love and rely on can continue to operate while ensuring harms are tackled effectively.”

The concerns with the Online Harms White Paper come as recent research highlighted the huge benefits that the internet provides. The internet sector grew by over 21% between 2012 and 2016 – approximately 4.2% on average per year, more than double the UK national GDP growth rate of 2% over the same period. It directly accounts for 400,000 jobs across the UK and its contribution to GDP is more than double that of the arts, entertainment, and recreation sector. Internet Association’s analysis estimates the contribution of the UK internet sector to UK GDP at approximately £45 billion per year.

To read the full paper, click here.