Insights Online Safety Act: Ofcom publishes call for evidence for third phase of online safety regulation


Ofcom has published a call for evidence to inform its codes of practice and guidance on the additional duties that will apply to ‘categorised services’ under the Online Safety Act 2023. It follows the publication of Ofcom’s advice to Government on the threshold conditions that should be set for Category 1, 2A and 2B services (which we reported on here).

The purpose of the call for evidence is to seek views from industry, expert groups, and other organisations on how Ofcom should approach its role of producing codes of practice and guidance outlining the steps that companies can take to comply with the additional duties attached to each category.

Category 1 services will have the greatest number of additional duties. These include ‘additional terms of service duties’, requiring that they use proportionate systems and processes to enforce their terms of service, and act in accordance with their terms of service when taking down or restricting access to content or banning users. The call for evidence seeks views, for example, on what providers of online services can do to enhance the clarity and accessibility of their terms of service and public policy statements, what measures exist to measure user engagement with – and comprehension of – terms of service, and whether improvements could be made to content moderation to deliver more consistent enforcement of terms of service without unduly restricting user activity.

Category 1 services also have additional duties to protect news publisher content, journalistic content, and content of democratic importance. Ofcom seeks views on how these terms can be defined within terms of service so that users can reasonably understand what content falls into these categories. It also calls for evidence on what considerations are taken into account when moderating such content, what appeal processes should be in place to contest action taken by service providers in relation to this content, and what measures can be taken to ensure that protection of content of democratic importance applies in the same way to a wide diversity of political opinion.

Another obligation for Category 1 services will be to offer features to their adult users that can be applied to reduce their exposure to certain types of legal content and to filter content from non-verified users. The call for evidence seeks to understand more about the detection, classification and moderation of this type of content (so-called ‘relevant content’) and whether there is any evidence to suggest that certain types of adults are more likely to encounter relevant content. It also asks what features are available to enable adult users to have greater control over the type of content they encounter and how online services design such features. Category 1 services must also offer all UK adult users the option to verify their identity, and Ofcom is interested in understanding more about the circumstances in which identity verification is offered on user-to-user services, how this is done, and the cost effectiveness of these methods. The call for evidence also asks about the broader implications of identity verification, namely whether it is welcomed by service providers or their users and whether it influences user behaviour.

Category 1 and 2A services will be required to have proportionate systems and processes in place to prevent fraudulent advertising on their services. Ofcom has invited comments on what processes and mechanisms services currently use, and could be implement in the future, to support the delivery of advertising and to detect fraudulent advertising material. It also asks for evidence about the impact of Generative AI and deepfakes on the incidence and detection of fraudulent advertisements.

Finally, the call for evidence addresses the obligations on Category 1, 2A and 2B services to have clear policies about disclosing information to the parents of a deceased child user about the child’s use of the service, and a mechanism for parents to find out what they need to do to obtain relevant information and updates in those circumstances.

The closing date for responses is 20 May 2024. To read the call for evidence in full, click here.