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Online safety regulation is here, Ofcom is ready, and we will make a difference

Writing in today's Daily Telegraph, Ofcom's Chief Executive Dame Melanie Dawes sets out the first major steps we're taking towards helping people in the UK live a safer life online.

If you are a child in Britain today, you can expect to see in the 22nd century. Your coming years will be shaped by artificial intelligence, with its promised revolutions in science and industry. Your online life will blend seamlessly with the physical world around you, fuelled by changes in technology that are constant and profound.

If you’re a parent, like me, this might seem both exhilarating and unnerving. After all, new opportunities seldom come without risk. The task of our generation is to recognise those risks as they emerge, and take positive steps to tackle them. For Ofcom, that work took a major step forward today.

We are the new online safety regulator, with a remit over the digital services that have made everyone more connected and entertained than ever before. Sometimes, those sites and apps serve up content that is harmful to younger minds. Some of it is illegal, and shouldn’t be served up to children or adults.

So as we take our powers to hold tech firms to account, we cannot waste a moment. Today, at the earliest opportunity, we are setting out how we expect to protect people from illegal harm online.

Children are our first priority, and the risk they face is real. Worrying new Ofcom figures show that most secondary schoolers (60%) have been contacted online in a way that potentially made them feel uncomfortable. Some 30% have received an unwanted friend or follow request. And around one in six have either been sent naked or half-dressed photos, or been asked to share these themselves.

If these unwanted approaches happened so often in the outside world, many of us would hardly want our children to leave the house. Yet somehow, in the online space, they have become almost routine. That cannot continue.

60%of secondary schoolers have been contacted online in a way that potentially made them feel uncomfortable

Under our plans, tech firms will need to take concrete steps to protect people from illegal harm. That starts with measures to protect minors from harmful interactions, such as removing them from friend suggestion lists and blocking strangers’ messages.

We also want to see more automatic detection and removal of child sexual abuse material, and much stronger measures to stop children accessing pornography. And we expect online service to take decisive steps to prevent youngsters from being exposed to dangerous suicide and self-harm content.

For users of all ages, we will focus on deterring online fraud, as well as action to tackle terrorist content.

Importantly, Ofcom is not a censor. We won’t have powers to take content down. Instead, our job is to tackle the root causes of harm by setting new standards and requiring firms to design their services with safety in mind. We’ll make sure our rules are practical and take full account of people’s privacy – as well as free expression, the lifeblood of discussion online.

This is a big job. It won’t be quick or easy to achieve. The technical detail must be right; our draft regulations today comprise 1,000 pages. And we cannot do this alone. Protecting people from online risk will demand a broad coalition of those who care.

"We’ll make sure our rules are practical and take full account of people’s privacy – as well as free expression"

So today we are consulting with experts, industry and the public on the approach we plan to take. We’re setting out how we assess online risk, how companies should measure and reduce it, and how we’ll enforce against those who fall short. Parliament will then review our industry codes of practice next year, before they come into force.

We are undaunted by the scale of the challenge, and inspired by its urgency. Ofcom has spent three years preparing for our new role. We have trained and hired expert teams with experience across the online sector – so our regulation will be workable and adaptable to change.

Of course, we cannot solve the internet’s every ill. Peril is part of human life. We cannot shield young people from all sources of jeopardy, and we shouldn’t try. But nor should we tolerate a degree of online risk to our children that we would never accept in their physical lives. Regulation is here, and Ofcom is ready to make a difference.

Explore jobs at Ofcom

Benefits Associate

Ofcom is the UK’s independent regulator for communication services including TV, Broadband and Radio. We aim to protect consumers from bad practices and have most recently been appointed the regulator for the draft Online Safety Bill; a global first looking at protecting users in the online space.What exactly do we do?We have quite a wide spectrum of responsibilities including making sure people get the best from their broadband, home phone and mobile services, as well as keeping an eye on TV and radio. We also help to make sure people across the UK are satisfied with what they see and hear on TV and radio, and that programmes reflect the audiences they serve. We consider every complaint we receive from viewers and listeners. Often, we investigate further and we sometimes find broadcasters in breach of our rules. Complaints about Love Island yes they come to us! We also oversee the universal postal service, which means Royal Mail must deliver and collect letters six days a week, and parcels five days a week, at an affordable and uniform price throughout the UK.  We look after the airwaves used by wireless devices like cordless phones, walkie talkies and even some car keys and doorbells. We also help to make sure people don’t get scammed and are protected from bad practices. This is particularly important for vulnerable or older people. Our duties come from Parliament and our priority is to look after consumers and we sometimes do this by promoting competition among companies we regulate. What else do we offer apart from being a pretty cool company? We believe that the reward package at Ofcom is based on much more than just salary. Our aim is to empower colleagues to undertake interesting and important work and we are committed to investing and supporting people to achieve their full potential.We believe that our colleagues are best-placed to choose the benefits that are of most value to them, so we have designed a flexible benefits package to suit individual needs. The range of benefits that can be chosen reflects the flexible environment we aim to create.Our standard benefits include:Flexible Benefits allowancePension allowance25 days holidayPrivate Medical InsuranceAnnual Health CheckLife AssuranceIncome Protection Insurance You can also choose from a wider range of flexible benefits, including the option to purchase additional annual leave, travel insurance, private medical cover for your family... and much more. At Ofcom, people are our greatest asset, so developing them is a fundamental part of our ethos. We take professional development very seriously, and encourage colleagues not only to seek development to improve their performance in role, but also CPD (continuous professional development) to enhance their professional competence and career opportunities. Colleagues use personal development plans to record and prioritise their personal development needs. We then provide a variety of opportunities for colleagues to meet those needs, including:a comprehensive set of internal training courses;career coaching;investment to attend appropriate external courses;sponsorships for professional or academic qualifications; andmemberships of professional bodies. As well as these 'traditional' methods of development, we also encourage secondments, project-based work and 'on the job' learning.  Be part of a global firstThis is an exciting time to join Ofcom. We’re delivering vital work to help shape the communications services of today and tomorrow – from helping the UK be a world leader in 5G mobile, to driving investment in ultrafast broadband and supporting the traditional postal service. To support all that work, we carry out world-class research in exciting areas such as technology and consumer behaviour. On top of this our role as the regulator for the Online Safety Bill puts us in a brilliant position to be part of a global first in protecting users online. If you want to be part of something life changing come and join Ofcom today and make a safer life online for all.


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