On 9 January 2023, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced the results of its survey relating to public attitudes to digital regulation in the UK. The government has been seeking to lead the global efforts in relation to digital regulation, in particular by seeking to introduce the proposed Online Safety Bill. The government made a manifesto commitment to make the UK “the safest place in the world to be online, while defending free expression”. While such a commitment may sound good, some considered there to be an inherent tension between these two aims, requiring a delicate balance (and a number of revisions to the proposed text) to smooth its online passage through Parliament. In November 2022, the UK government removed the proposed “legal but harmful” provisions from the draft Online Safety Bill, in response to concerns that platforms might be required to block online content considered harmful to adults, which would otherwise be legal; some feared this to be an attack on freedom of speech in the UK. For a deeper look at the government’s November changes to the draft bill, please click here.
Writing in the Telegraph about her revisions to the Online Safety Bill, the current Secretary of State for the DCMS, Michelle Donelan MP, said that she had “carefully amended the Online Safety Bill to ensure it reflects the values of our way of life”. However, the government’s Plan for Digital Regulation, and the tracker survey released today show that the government is still trying to understand what these values are for the UK as a whole, as well as how to balance a number of competing factors such as a desire to foster innovation and maintain freedoms while also implementing new safeguards and technical requirements on online platforms.
Please find below a summary of the DCMS public attitudes survey and its insights. For the full report, please click here.
- The DCMS acknowledges that it needs better information around its understanding of public attitudes towards digital regulation. It hopes that this survey will act as a baseline for future reviews and will help it better understand the UK public’s experience of digital technologies and whether the government has the right rules in place.
- In relation to its approach to digital regulation, the government says that it wants to promote innovation, which it intends to achieve partly by implementing outcome-focused regulation based on evidence.
- In 2022, 58% of UK adults believe that on balance, digital technologies have made their lives better.
- However, the majority of UK adults surveyed do not feel that digital technologies help them access trusted factual information online, or that such technologies have a positive impact on their ability to exchange and debate ideas online.
- A large proportion of UK adults report feeling vulnerable to online harms. 45% of UK adults do not feel safe online from harms such as cyber-attacks, fraud and scams (a significant rise from 38% in 2021). This feeling was particularly prevalent amongst adults who are 55 years or older, with 56% of this cohort saying that they do not feel safe from online harms.
- UK consumers believe the government should be doing more to regulate digital technologies. When asked whether consumers felt that the technology sector is regulated in a way that protects consumer interests, only 27% of respondents said that it was. This is a drop in agreement from 31% in 2021.
- Consumers generally feel they benefit from digital technologies, but they have concerns, particularly in relation to online trust, quality of information and vulnerability to online harms. Consumers think that the government ought to be doing more to regulate the digital sector.
- The benefits and risks associated with technologies are not distributed evenly across demographic groups, and the survey results highlighted differences in responses between age groups, socio-economic grades, and ethnic groups. For example, while older people are more positive about the benefits of technology on their lives, they also appear to be more worried about its impact. The government will likely increase efforts to develop their digital regulatory interventions in a way that is both equitable and seeks to provide a fair distribution of the benefits of digital technologies.