Monday 27 April 2020 11:58 am

UK tech sector launches industry body to tackle online harms

The UK tech sector has teamed up with government agencies to launch a new trade association aimed at cracking down on harmful material posted online.

The Online Safety Tech Industry Association (OSTIA), launched today, will bring together more than a dozen tech firms that focus on online safety, as well as organisations such as the Internet Watch Foundation and the NSPCC.

The group aims to boost awareness and understanding of online safety technologies and to influence government policy and regulation.

The industry body, which is the first of its kind, will be led by Edinburgh-based cyber firm Cyan Forensics and startup advisory group Public.

OSTIA will be chaired by Cyan Forensics chief executive Ian Stevenson, while its members include Yoti, Crisp, Securium, Super Awesome and Safe To Net.

“The topic of online safety is wide-ranging and hugely complex. Unfortunately for regulators and providers, it is made up of many individual problems; there is no silver bullet that will solve the whole issue,” Stevenson said in a statement.

“By focusing on specific, actionable areas, we can work together to demonstrate how the thriving safety-related products and services market will play a significant role in helping companies protect the most vulnerable from accessing harmful content, while driving digital growth.”

The launch comes weeks after the National Crime Agency predicted a rise in online child sexual abuse during the coronavirus pandemic, while Interpol earlier this month warned of an increase in activity from paedophiles seeking child sex abuse material.

The government last year outlined plans to crack down on online harms by placing a legal duty of care on tech firms such as Google and Facebook to protect their users.

A beefed-up Ofcom is set to become the UK’s first internet regulator, tasked with deciding whether companies have fulfilled their responsibilities and handing down fines for breaches.

However, the NSPCC has warned the new laws could be pushed back to 2023, allowing tech giants to lobby for softer regulation.

The charity fears plans to introduce “pre-legislative scrutiny” of draft laws will delay legislation by at least 18 months and lead to a watering down of measures, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Digital minister Caroline Dinenage said: “We are determined to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online and have set out world-leading proposals to put a duty of care on online companies, enforced by an independent regulator. 

“We are backing the industry to support our work by developing new products to improve online security and drive growth in the digital economy. This new association will help bring together relevant organisations to collaborate, innovate and create a safer online world.”