The world continues to struggle with regulating the digital environment. We had the EU crystallise its digital strategy to 2030 in March, and the UK published its Plan for Digital Regulation which sets out fairly similar aims. The UK wants to reduce red tape and cut down on confusing policy in order to stimulate innovation, jobs and prosperity. This needs to be done while minimising harms to the economy, security and society by promoting competition and innovation, keeping the UK safe and secure online, and promoting a flourishing democratic society.


Online Safety Bill

The UK set out its final plans for its hotly anticipated Online Safety Bill in January as discussed here. The Bill was published in April and we looked at what to expect in a range of Download articles. The OSB is the government's attempt to tackle a wide range of online harms. It is extremely broad in scope and is a complex piece of legislation which has attracted a great deal of scrutiny. Its risk-based approach has the benefit of flexibility but also raises concerns about compliance and enforceability. Some argue it does not go far enough, others that it borders on restricting fundamental freedoms.

The government published an online media literacy strategy and guidance on online safety for businesses in July. The aim of the strategy is to educate and empower internet users in the UK to manage their own online safety. The guidance is split into Safety by Design guidance and a One Stop Shop guidance on child safety

The OSB and tackling online harms is a priority for the government and you can expect this to continue to dominate the UK's digital regulation agenda in 2022.

Digital Markets Unit and Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum

In March, the Digital Markets Unit published its terms of reference. The DMU will bring together members from the CMA, DCMS, BEIS and HM Treasury to agree a work programme and monitor progress. The ICO, Ofcom and FCA will also join in relevant areas.

In July, the government launched a consultation on the design of a new pro-competition regime for digital platforms with strategic market status which will be overseen by the DMU. The consultation closed in October. The CMA published its response which was broadly positive about attempts to reform the competition regime for digital markets but suggested some changes to the proposals.

The Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF) set out its work programme for 2021/22 in February. The DRCF comprises the CMA, the ICO and Ofcom and the FCA. The Forum is intended to coordinate regulation across digital and online services. The ICO and CMA published a blueprint for cooperation in May.


Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act

2020 went out with a bang and in January, we digested the impact. The EC published the draft Digital Services Act which aims to tackle illegal online content and regulate online advertising, together with the Digital Markets Act which plans to regulate online 'gatekeepers'. You can read our detailed analysis here.

These are significant pieces of legislation and while they are some way off being finalised, the EC has prioritised their completion as part of its 2022 Work Plan.

Regulation on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online

The Regulation on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online was published in the Official Journal at the end of April. It applies to hosting service providers offering services in the Union in so far as they disseminate information to the public. Online platforms will be required to remove terrorist content referred by Member State authorities within one hour. The Regulation also sets out transparency and reporting obligations around measures used to identify and remove content, how much content is removed, and the outcome of complaints and appeals. The Regulation will apply from 7 June 2022.

Guidelines on ranking transparency and Platform to Business Regulation

As we discussed in February, the EC published guidelines on ranking transparency pursuant to the Platform to Business Regulation (P2BR). These are not legally binding in the EU. They do not apply in the UK but UK courts may take them into account although they are not required to do so.

Digital trade

In September, the Department for International Trade (DIT) published a five-point plan for digital trade which aims to deliver the UK as a global leader in digital trade with a network of international agreements to support it.

This was clearly a pre-cursor the October G7 meeting, at which the G7 agreed a set of Digital Trade Principles. These focus on open digital markets and data flows, safeguards for individuals, fair and inclusive digital governance, and digital trading systems.

In October, 136 countries agreed to a minimum corporation tax rate of 15% for businesses and a system of taxing profits where they are earned. This falls short of the 21% originally proposed by the Biden Administration but marks an agreement to prevent multinational businesses taking advantage of low tax jurisdictions. This is clearly aimed at digital businesses and at the same time, the six countries which have introduced their own digital services tax (Austria, France, Italy, Spain, UK and USA) have agreed measures to withdraw them.