The British government has announced its latest plan to keep nasty stuff off the internet: asking companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google to pay a voluntary levy.
The new Internet Safety Strategy follows Conservative promises earlier this year to tighten up internet safety legislation. However, with the government lacking an overall majority (and having rather a lot else to be thinking about right now), it has now given up on making new laws and has watered down its proposals – for the time being.
First up in the Internet Safety Green Paper is a new social media code of practice aimed at providing a ‘joined-up approach’ to dealing with bullying, intimidating or humiliating online content. The government says it may demand changes in reporting mechanisms and privacy settings as part of this.
It’s also promising an annual internet safety transparency report, and more support for small businesses in building (unspecified) safety features into apps and products from the very start.
But it’s the new levy that’s likely to attract most interest. There’s no indication as to how much it might be, but the money will go ‘to raise awareness and counter internet harms’.
“Behaviour that is unacceptable in real life is unacceptable on a computer screen. We need an approach to the internet that protects everyone without restricting growth and innovation in the digital economy,” said culture secretary Karen Bradley, announcing the new measures this morning.
“Our ideas are ambitious – and rightly so. Collaboratively, government, industry, parents and communities can keep citizens safe online, but only by working together.”
As is usual for this government (breaking encryption without breaking encryption, for example), there’s some confusion between aspiration and achievement.
“We also believe that seeking a global leadership role on online safety will position Britain as a leader in technology that supports online safety,” the document reads.
“We will work closely with the Department for International Trade to ensure that the export potential for this technology is fully realised.”
The UK is, indeed, desperate for its rather heavy-handed views on internet regulation to win support from the rest of the world. However, rather than focusing on the most obviously like-minded nations – China, say, or Russia – it has other plans.
“We will work through our network of diplomatic missions, to establish new support for our work, including through international institutions such as the UN, EU, Commonwealth, OECD and the Council of Europe,” the Green Paper reads.
It’s coming for your internet too, in other words.
And anybody breathing a sigh of relief that the proposals are effectively meaningless should think again, with the government warning the voluntary levy may at some point be enforced through the law.
“We are currently reviewing the existing regulatory framework,” the Green Paper reads.
“As outlined in the Conservative manifesto, we will consider further steps that may be required to continue to develop and uphold a robust regulatory environment that both supports digital service providers and delivers improved protection to users, including – if necessary – a sanctions regime to ensure compliance.”