The amended bill aims to safeguard freedom of expression whilst still protecting children and adult users in the online environment.

By Gail E. Crawford, Deborah J. Kirk, Alain Traill, and Victoria Wan

The Online Safety Bill (the Bill) was introduced by the UK government on 17 March 2022. The Bill aims to impose obligations on in-scope “user-to-user services” and “search engines” to implement adequate processes to protect users from illegal and harmful online content. Service providers are in scope if they are linked to the UK by either (i) having a significant number of users or targeting users in the UK; or (ii) being accessible by individuals located in the UK and posing a material risk of significant harm to these users. For more information, read Latham & Watkins’ summary of the Bill as initially drafted here and the previous amendments from September 2022 here.

The Bill returned to Parliament on 5 December 2022 with a series of major amendments compared to the previous draft, as detailed in the Written Ministerial Statement on 29 November 2022 and tabled here. The amendments follow criticisms from various stakeholders, including feedback that the obligations relating to “legal, but harmful content” are unclear and/or curtail free speech online and that the obligations relating to children are insufficient to ensure children’s safety online.

Organisations face fines of up to 10% of annual global turnover or £18 million (whichever the greater) for failure to comply.

By Gail Crawford, Rachael Astin, Alain Traill, and Katie Henshall

On 15 December 2020, the UK government published its full response to the Online Harms White Paper consultation, which sets out final proposals for the new regulatory regime. The response confirms that companies in scope will face a range of new obligations relating to both illegal and harmful content, in addition to the threat of significant fines and other sanctions in the event of non-compliance. The proposed regulatory framework will be introduced in 2021 in the form of the Online Safety Bill.

The response comes more than a year and a half after the Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) first published the Online Harms White Paper in April 2019, which proposed a new compliance and enforcement regime to tackle online harms. In February 2020, the government set out preliminary details of the proposed regulatory regime as an initial response to the white paper. For background to this consultation, see Latham’s previous blog posts (White Paper launch; government interim response).

The taskforce continues to receive and monitor complaints about unfair practices in relation to cancellations and refunds and potentially unjustifiable price rises.

By John D. Colahan and Anuj Ghai

On 21 May, the CMA released a further update setting out the work of its COVID-19 Taskforce in responding to complaints regarding competition and consumer protection problems arising from the novel coronavirus and measures taken to contain it. This follows a 30 April report (summarised here) which set out the programme of work the CMA intended to undertake to deal with complaints about unfair practices in relation to cancellations and refunds.

Based on the complaints received and additional information received from consumer bodies, such as Which? and Citizens Advice, the CMA’s principal concerns continue to relate to unfair practices in relation to cancellations and refunds and unjustifiable price increases, particularly for essential goods. The CMA notes that from 10 March to 17 May it was contacted more than 60,000 times about coronavirus-related issues; further, the rate at which consumers are contacting the CMA has increased in recent weeks suggesting that problems continue to persist.

The CAT’s Royal Mail v. Ofcom judgment considers what constitutes abusive conduct, the “as-efficient competitor” test, and the use of expert economic advice.

By David Little, Gregory Bonné, Alexandra Luchian, and Nathan Wilkins

On 12 November 2019, the UK Competition Appeal Tribunal (the CAT) published its judgment rejecting Royal Mail’s appeal against a £50 million fine imposed by the UK Office of Communications (Ofcom), the UK communications and postal services regulator, for abuse of a dominant position in bulk mail delivery following a complaint from Whistl.

This post focuses on three areas of the CAT’s judgment: (1) the distinction between abusive conduct and mere preparatory acts; (2) the relevance of the “as-efficient competitor” test when assessing exclusionary conduct by dominant companies; and (3) the treatment and protection of expert economic advice.