'High hopes' for govt to extend Online Safety Bill

The government has “absolutely heard” the industry and cross-party message that paid-for advertising should be included in the Online Safety Bill, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Support under-secretary, Chris Philp, has said.

Speaking in a House of Commons debate on the findings of the Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill, Philp emphasised that the calls for the bill to be extended were "loudly heard", although he refrained from any firm commitments.

The report from the Joint Committee previously urged the government to tackle paid-for advertising in the bill, in an effort to combat online scams and end the "land of the lawless".

Philp stated: "I am not going to be pre-announcing any firm commitments today because work is still ongoing, including the collective agreement process in government, but on fraud and paid-for advertising, we have heard the message of the Joint Committee, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the financial services sector, campaigners and members of this house.

"It is a message that the government have absolutely heard, and it is something that we very much hope we will be able to address when we bring the bill forward. I cannot make any specific commitments because the work is still ongoing, but that message is loudly heard."

The statement from Philp came amid cross-party support for the recommendation that the bill to be extended to include paid-for adverts, with a number of MPs backing the recommendations, including Work and Pensions Committee (WPC) chair, Stephen Timms.

The WPC and the Treasury Committee recently wrote to the Prime Minister to urge the government to take action on the bill, having previously called for international tech firms to be held responsible for their role in allowing pension scam adverts to appear on their platforms.

Timms previously warned that regulators were 'powerless' against online paid advert scams, with the FCA itself also calling for legislative change in order to address limits in its power to tackle online advert scam concerns.

Whilst the government previously rejected the recommendations to extend the bill, Aegon head of pensions, Kate Smith, said that she had “high hopes” that the bill will be extended following the House of Commons debate.

“It’s a complete no-brainer that paid-for adverts, alongside user-generated scams, are included in the Online Safety Bill. Doing so will protect thousands of people from being duped by on-line fraudsters and losing all their hard-earned savings, pensions and investments,” she said.

“The financial services industry, along with the regulator, is speaking with one voice on this issue, and I have high hopes that this will happen.

“Previously the government had indicated that paid-for adverts would be included in a new online advertising bill, but the delay would means that people would have to wait months longer for the protections to be in place, while continuing to be at the mercy of fraudsters.

“The government needs to act now. The simplest solution is to include paid-for advertising in the Online Safety Bill.”

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