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Govt: online safe code won't deflect regulation

Peter Griffin, Editor. 23 August 2022, 12:45 pm

NetSafe's online safety code developed with the major social media platform providers has been widely panned as a tokenistic effort by the companies to deflect regulatory action.

Now, as Newsroom reporter Marc Daalder reveals, it appears the Government shares the same reservations as groups such as InternetNZ and Tohatoha NZ who have been critical of the code and the way it was developed.

"Newsroom understands, the Government harbours similar concerns that the code of practice doesn't require big tech companies to do anything differently, wasn't consulted on appropriately and looks a lot like a fig leaf to ward off more serious regulation," writes Daalder, who drew on a Department of Internal Affairs document released under the Official Information Act, which outlined the Government's position of the code.

"The specific concerns were redacted from the document, but people close to the department say they align closely with civil society's worries," writes Daalder.

Final code disappoints

Online safety agency Netsafe and the signatories to the code - Meta (owner of Facebook and Instagram), Google (owner of Youtube), Twitter, social network TikTok and online gaming and video streaming platform Twitch, released a finalised version of the code in July.

But it disappointed civil society groups who criticised the development of the code which was largely limited to Netsafe and the tech companies signing up to it. Industry body NZTech was put in place as the administrator of the code which further annoyed civil society groups who wanted a more independent group with a remit that considers more than the interests of the tech sector.

Several key aspects of the voluntary code, such as penalties for non-compliance and complaints procedures have not yet been finalised. So where does the code now stand in the Government's estimations?

internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti told Newsroom that the code "was a move in the right direction".

But she added:

"The code’s themes are also areas of focus for the Content Regulatory System Review (the Review) and may provide some useful insights for the Department of Internal Affairs. However, it has not affected the approach to the Review or the need for change in this area."

That review is, according to DIA, "to design and implement a new approach to content regulation that minimises the risk of harms caused by content to New Zealanders". It would be backed by legislation, requiring tech companies to abide by its principles.

Public consultation on the review is scheduled to run from September to November, with legislation supporting a new framework to combat harmful content to be drafted in the second half of 2023.

That could finally offer the regulatory oversight many critics have been arguing for, with the teeth Netsafe's voluntary code is lacking.

Screenshot 2022-08-23 at 12.28.39 PM.png

The timeline for the Content Regulatory Review is currently underway


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