ICO, CMA and Ofcom issue first annual plan of work

Last month, the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF), comprising the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the Office of Communications (Ofcom), published its first annual plan of work. In light of the developments in online services, the plan of work sets out how the organisations will cooperate going forward.

What is the DRCF?

The DRCF was originally formed in July 2020 to build strong relationships amongst the organisations involved to ensure greater regulation over unique challenges posed by the regulation of online platforms – an area which continues to grow and develop. This growth and development requires continual monitoring, and regulators are often left playing catch-up to ensure there is effective regulation over such developments.

The DRCF was formed to provide a coherent and coordinated approach to these regulatory challenges. Eight months since its establishment, the DRCF has produced its first annual plan of work which sets out its roadmap for the 2021/22 period. In addition, it is expected that, later this year, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will become a full member of the DRCF.

The DRCF’s Plan of Work

The plan of work sets out how the organisations intend to cooperate, focusing in particular on three key areas:

  1. Responding to industry and technological developments.
  2. Developing joined-up regulatory approaches.
  3. Building shared skills and capabilities.

Over the years, there have been significant developments within the online services industry. This includes developments in artificial intelligence and big data processing and, until now, regulators have had difficulty in ensuring the regulation keeps pace with the developments. However, one of the key focuses for the DRCF is to ensure the organisations are proactive and work jointly on complex, cross-cutting issues. In particular, the DRCF have noted that areas of focus for joined-up regulatory approaches for the upcoming 2021/22 year include:

  • data protection
  • competition regulation
  • the Age-Appropriate Design Code
  • the regulation of video-sharing platforms and online harms

These areas have been selected due to their development but more importantly because of the potential for harm to consumers.

Going forward

The establishment of the DRCF and the publication of its first plan of work highlights the clear intention of the UK Government to strengthen the regulation of online services. The UK Government has already sought to rely on the DRCF to effectively regulate digital markets, including announcing that a Digital Market Unit will be established as part of the CMA and a new duty of care for online harms will be enforced by Ofcom. It is likely that further measures will be announced throughout the year.

With the FCA expected to join the DRCF in the near future, businesses from all sectors which provide online services should be aware of this update to the digital market regulatory environment.

How can we help?

We regularly advise clients on regulatory issues including data protection and competition law. Our specialists can assist with ensuring you are aware of the relevant regulatory requirements for your specific business and helping you to comply with them, so please do not hesitate to contact us.

This article was co-written by Haris Saleem, Trainee Solicitor.

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