Head of UK tech regulator forum warns Online Safety Bill could hurt startups

online safety bill

The head of a forum of UK digital technology watchdogs has warned that the Online Safety Bill could hurt small businesses by hitting them with additional costs.

Gill Whitehead, chief executive of the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF) – a group formed in 2020 as a joint venture of the CMA, ICO and Ofcom – said that newly established startups are likely to struggle to pay the fees associated with the proposed bill.

“The Online Safety Bill could have an inherent tension with competition because there’s a cost to complying with the bill that might be prohibitive for smaller firms,” Whitehead told the Financial Times.

“Unless we work through those things ahead of time, then we leave those tensions on the table and that slows things down for business. By working together, we can help accelerate.”

The proposed safety bill, which was recently introduced into parliament, has been proposed as a way to keep the biggest tech companies in check with fines and other punishments handed to companies that violate the proposed law.

In addition to paying fines in the event of breaching the law, online companies will be expected to increase the amount they spend on content moderation.

However, according to Whitehead, it’s the big tech firms that are able to afford these costs, while smaller startups in the UK could face drastic setbacks to growth.

The bill would see fines handed to companies that allow harmful but not necessarily illegal content on online platforms. This has led to a debate over the nature of freedom of speech in the digital age, particularly as it is not entirely clear what the bill will consider to be a violation.

The DRCF was established to promote coordination and greater levels of cooperation between the existing UK regulatory bodies that formed it. However, the DRCF is not a regulator itself and does not have any statutory powers.

The Financial Conduct Authority was later added as a full member organisation of the DRCF in April of last year.