What UK online safety bill means for consumers

·Reporter
·4-min read
The online safety bill is intended to improve internet safety in the UK. Photo: Getty
The online safety bill is intended to improve internet safety in the UK. Photo: Getty

Calls to include paid-for advertising in the online safety bill to help tackle social media and search engine fraud as an "epidemic of scams" grips Britain.

New research from Which? revealed that UK consumers believe social media platforms and search engines are failing to adequately protect them from scams.

The consumer group along with MPs, consumer and business firms and digital scam victims urged digital secretary Nadine Dorries and the government to include paid-for advertising to be included in the bill.

As the number of users who feel dissatisfied with the protection from scams provided by social media platforms and search engines grows, what will the bill mean for UK consumers?

What is paid-for advertising?

Paid-for advertising is a type of online ad model which allows advertisers to participate in real-time auctions in order to show their adverts within slots on specific networks and platforms.

Some examples of of the model include, social media ads, influencer marketing, pay-per-click, ad retargeting and banner ads.

Read more: Innocent TV ads banned over 'misleading' environmental claims

In February last year, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned influencers from using "misleading" beauty filters in paid beauty adverts.

A spokesperson for Meta said they are "dedicating significant resources to tackling this industry-wide" problem on and off its platforms.

"To fight this, we work not just to detect and reject scam ads on our services, but block advertisers and, in some cases, take them to court," the spokesperson added. "While no enforcement is perfect, we continue to invest in new technologies and methods to protect people on our service from these scams."

They added that Meta had donated £3bn ($4bn) to Citizens Advice to deliver a UK scam action programme to raise awareness of online scams and help victims

In this photo illustration a Facebook and Instagram logos seen displayed on a smartphone and Meta Platforms logo in the background. (Photo by Igor Golovniov / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
In this photo illustration a Facebook and Instagram logos seen displayed on a smartphone and Meta Platforms logo in the background. (Photo by Igor Golovniov / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

What does this mean for UK consumers?

The calls would potentially mean social media sites such as Facebook-owner Meta (FB), Instagram and Twitter (TWTR) would have to take a more active role in monitoring harmful or misleading content.

Which? figures show 43% of consumers are dissatisfied with the protection from scams provided by social media platforms and search engines, more than double (20%) the number who felt protected.

This was higher than levels of dissatisfaction with the protection from scams offered by the government (39%), email providers (33%), telecommunication companies (31%) and online marketplaces (29%).

An estimated 9 million people (17%) have been targeted by a scam on social media, according to the survey.

Of the 2,000 respondents 79% said they have seen or been targeted by a scam – highlighting the scale at which fraudsters have been acting with impunity since the coronavirus pandemic.

Recent Office for National Statistics figures suggest that fraud has increased by 36% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

One victim who told Which? she was tricked by an advert she saw posted by a third-party on Facebook, featuring fabricated quotes from Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden, lost over £30,000 in a potential cryptocurrency scam in 2020.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) does not regulate cryptocurrencies.

Watch: How do influencers make money from Instagram?

What is the online safety bill?

The online safety bill is a proposed act of parliament designed to improve internet safety in the UK.

The government is expected to publish the bill in the coming weeks. Offences on the list include, child sexual abuse and terrorism.

Dorries announced earlier this month that extra priority illegal offences to be written on the face of the bill will include the promotion or facilitation of suicide, people smuggling and sexual exploitation, revenge porn, hate crime, fraud and the sale of illegal drugs or weapons.

Tech firms were previously forced to take such content down after it had been reported to them by users but they must be proactive now and prevent people being exposed in the first place.

Communications regulator, Ofcom will have powers to issue fines of up to 10% of annual worldwide turnover to non-compliant businesses or block them from being accessible in the UK.

Three new criminal offences will also be added to the bill to ensure criminal law is fit for the internet age.

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: "It is no surprise that consumers do not feel adequately protected by social media sites and search engines. These companies have some of the most sophisticated technology in the world, and yet they are not doing enough to protect their users from online scams on their sites.

"The government must include paid-for advertising in the Online Safety Bill so that consumers finally get the protection they need from fraudsters who will stop at nothing to target potential victims online.

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