The proposed reforms look at allowing digital technologies to grow and transform all aspects of society, but what does the Digital Economies Bill 2016 mean for businesses? We took a look at the main proposals, and offer our thoughts on their impact to us and our clients.
A focus on broadband
Not only is the government proposing to bring everyone “up to speed” (that speed being a minimum of 10Mbps), they also aim to increase access to broadband and better phone connections across the UK.
In addition, consumers will be entitled to automatic compensation when their broadband service is disrupted. All of the above proposals are a recognition by our government that internet connectivity is finally considered a necessity, rather than a luxury, and that UK connectivity really is below par in many areas of the country.
We're really behind this initiative - as a digital agency, 'speed' is always at the forefront of our minds. Quick website/application load times are critical to giving the end-user a good experience. Our clients will also be able to utilise upcoming technologies that require more bandwidth, such as virtual and augmented reality.
Currently, intellectual property online is a bit of a grey area. To help improve this, the government is proposing to offer support to digital industries by clarifying the difference between online and offline copyright laws. As well as this, they're planning on allowing registered design owners the opportunity to give notice of their rights with more ease and at smaller cost to them.
For both ourselves and our clients, providing clarity and support for the owners of IP (especially when copyright is breached) is long-overdue. We look forward to seeing the outcome of this initiative.
Gone will be the days of buying email lists. The bill looks to reform the approach companies take to direct marketing by forcing companies to gain consent before any marketing material is sent (this will apply to cold-calling as well!). This will mean that companies will have to stick to marketing to customers already signed up to receive their emails, or they will have to send a request first. There will be fines for companies breaking these laws.
Whilst it is not explicit in the Bill, our assumption is that this rule will apply only to personal email addresses and telephone numbers only - making it an extension of the current Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (PECR) which sit alongside the Data Protection Act 1998.
If your customers are businesses, this is unlikely to affect you as long as you follow the direct marketing best practices suggested by the Information Commissioner's Office.
If you market directly to consumers, you need to be asking for consent upfront. Over recent years, many retailers have begun to ask "can I add you to our email list?" when at the checkout, so expect this to continue. Loyalty schemes also play a large part in 'opting in' to regular communications.
Protection of children from online pornography
According to the Bill, 1 in 5 children aged 11-17 surveyed in February 2015 said they had seen pornographic images that had shocked or upset them. To protect them in future, websites containing pornographic material will require age verification to be completed before access is granted.
Whilst many of the bigger names in the porn industry have already agreed to support the initiative, despite not being based in the UK, there are understandably concerns about the less-scrupulous website owners who may ignore it. Most age verification systems rely on the visitor using their credit card information to verify their age. It seems a rather naive assumption that users will willingly surrender credit card details to a porn website so they can have their age checked.
Add to that social channels like SnapChat and Instagram where users can upload and share images of almost anything, relying heavily on community moderation to keep things safe for children.
But what about digital education?
What the Bill doesn't address (and doesn't appear to be covered in any other Bills) is the need for improvements in technology and digital education.
Digital skills are becoming increasingly important in any job role. As automation and artificial intelligence technologies continue to evolve, more jobs will become disrupted by digital. Education surrounding technology and digital skills varies from school to school, but the digital skills gap in the UK is widening - technology changes so frequently that schools and teachers (understandably) find it difficult to keep up.
A recent report by Nesta, stated that:
In the last five years UK schools have spent more than £1 billion on digital technology. From interactive whiteboards to tablets, there is more digital technology in schools than ever before. But so far there has been little evidence of substantial success in improving educational outcomes.
As the report goes on to discuss, we all have a role to play in bringing learning together to create transferable digital skills. As an agency, that's something we're working hard to do through internships, guest lectures and practical sessions with our local universities and higher education bodies.
So, what do you think to the Digital Economies Bill 2016 and how it will affect you?