October 24, 2022
Ofcom has published its first report on VSPs since being appointed as the statutory regulator for VSPs established in the UK. The report sets out its key findings from the first year of regulation, running from October 2021 to October 2022 (Year 1). The findings cover VSPs that notified Ofcom they were in scope of the regime. The report also sets out Ofcom’s strategy and areas of focus for the next year of the regime (Year 2).
Ofcom’s VSP regime was launched when it published its VSP Harms and Measures Guidance and Plan and Approach in October 2021. At that time, the regulator set out its four broad aims to: (i) raise standards; (ii) address non-compliance; (iii) increase transparency; and (iv) get industry and itself ready for the future Online Safety regime.
Ofcom also set out five Year 1 strategic priorities. These focused on specific harms and user safety measures, with the overall goal of ensuring that VSPs put in place systems and processes to protect their users from harmful video material.
The key Year 1 findings are that:
- all platforms have safety measures in place, including rules on what kinds of video material are allowed; some platforms made changes to their measures in direct response to being regulated under the VSP regime;
- platforms generally provided limited evidence on how well their safety measures are operating to protect users; this creates difficulty in determining with any certainty whether VSPs’ safety measures are working consistently and effectively;
- more robust measures are needed to prevent children from accessing pornography; some adult VSPs’ access control measures are not sufficiently robust in stopping children accessing pornography; Ofcom expects them to make clear plans to implement more robust solutions and make these changes this year when possible;
- some platforms could be better equipped for regulation; some platforms are not sufficiently prepared and resourced for regulation; going forward, Ofcom will be looking for platforms to improve and provide more comprehensive responses to Ofcom’s information requests; and
- platforms are not prioritising risk assessment processes, which Ofcom believes are fundamental to proactively identifying and mitigating risks to user safety; risk assessments will be a requirement on all regulated services under the Online Safety regime.
In Year 1 Ofcom established a baseline for the user protection measures platforms have in place. Ofcom’s Year 2 priorities will take a broader look at the way platforms set, enforce, and test their approach to user safety, with a particular focus on robust age assurance. In summary, Ofcom will seek to:
- ensure VSPs have sufficient processes in place for setting and revising comprehensive terms and conditions (generally known as Community Guidelines) that cover all relevant harms;
- check that VSPs apply and enforce their Community Guidelines consistently and effectively to ensure harmful content is tackled in practice;
- review the tools VSPs provide to allow users to control their experience and promote greater engagement with these measures; and
- drive forward the implementation of robust age assurance to protect children from the most harmful online content (including pornography).
Ofcom says that its priorities for Year 2 will support more detailed scrutiny of platforms’ systems and processes. The regulator will continue to take forward learnings from its work in holding VSPs to account as it prepares to take on the much broader online regulatory role set out in the Online Safety Bill. To access the report, click here.