Australia’s online industry given more time to get world-first codes right

Australia’s eSafety Commissioner has extended the deadline for the online industry to develop fit-for-purpose codes to provide more meaningful safety protections for Australians online.  

The Commissioner has notified the six industry associations developing the codes that the deadline for producing drafts for registration by eSafety has been extended by nine weeks. 

“We’re giving industry more time to develop the most robust and effective codes possible because our collective goal here is to protect Australians, particularly children, from significant harms online,” eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said. 

“These codes will be the first of their kind anywhere in the world and it’s vital that we get them right.  But they must meet the intent of the Online Safety Act to lift online safety standards across the tech ecosystem - up and down the stack. 

“Every tech player has a role to play in addressing the risk of seriously harmful content such as child sexual exploitation material on their services. The codes are intended to lift this bar of responsibility – the status quo will not pass muster.

“eSafety has been working collaboratively with industry from the beginning of this process in July last year. Granting this extension is a reasonable, fair and appropriate step in this important process and will continue to work closely with industry, offering any support, feedback and expertise we can. 

“We know this has been a huge undertaking for industry and at times it has been quite challenging, but I think we’d all agree that the ultimate goal of protecting our children online is more than worth the effort.”

The codes will apply to eight industry sections, including social media services, websites, search engines, app stores, internet service providers, device manufacturers, hosting services, and electronic services, including email, messaging, gaming and dating services. 

The responsibility is on industry to draft the new codes and offer solutions about how they can provide appropriate community safeguards. Prior to submitting the draft codes to eSafety, the industry associations will release them for public consultation to give the community and other stakeholders an opportunity to comment. 

“If industry is unable to establish appropriate codes in a timely fashion, the eSafety Commissioner has the power under the Act to declare industry standards,” Ms Inman Grant said. 

Under the Act, eSafety will be able to receive complaints and investigate potential breaches of industry codes or standards, and may use civil penalties, enforceable undertakings and injunctions to ensure compliance.

The codes are another important tool in eSafety's regulatory arsenal to tackle safety weaknesses at the systemic and processes level, building on the fundamentals of Safety by Design, and complementing the Basic Online Safety Expectations outlined in the new Act, which commenced in January 2022.  

The Basic Online Safety Expectations set out the minimum safety requirements expected of industry to operate in Australia. They also give eSafety the power to compel transparency reporting on how the industry is tackling a range of online safety issues. 

eSafety will start using these reporting powers from the end of July, initially focusing on understanding the steps being taken by industry to tackle child sexual exploitation and abuse.

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