This Week’s Techlaw News Round-Up

June 16, 2023

UK law

New guidance on the presentation of mid-contract price increases in telecoms ads

CAP and BCAP have published new guidance aimed at helping protect consumers from the misleading advertising of mobile and broadband contracts that include mid-contract price increases. Many providers include clauses in their contracts that mean consumers’ monthly costs will increase on an annual basis, usually based on inflation plus an additional percentage. That means the initial price consumers are paying will go up in future by an unknown amount. It is therefore crucial that information about the future price increase is clear to consumers in the ad itself, to avoid creating a misleading impression that the initial stated price will remain the same throughout the contract period. The guidance will take effect on 15 December 2023, following a six-month grace period to allow advertisers to make necessary changes to their campaigns. Ofcom has also been investigating mid-contract price rises.

Ofcom publishes update on age assurance in the adult VSP sector

Ofcom has published an update on its work on age assurance in the adult VSP sector. Video-sharing platforms that fall within the scope of Ofcom’s regulation are required, by law, to take measures to protect people using their sites and apps from harmful videos. It launched its enforcement programme in January 2023, prompted by concerns that small UK-based adult sites may not have robust measures in place to prevent children accessing pornography. It was also concerned that some UK adult sites may not have notified Ofcom that they fall within its jurisdiction, and also not have appropriate age assurance measures in place. Since then, it has been gathering information from VSPs to understand the age assurance measures they have in place, and to identify any compliance concerns that warrant further action. So far, it has identified that a number of platforms may fall in-scope of the UK VSP regime and appear not to have notified Ofcom, or have appropriate age assurance measures in place. Among those companies who have notified to Ofcom that they fall within scope, several have already taken steps to improve their access controls for underage users. For some, further improvements are required, and in these cases, Ofcom is setting deadlines by which platforms must bring themselves into compliance. If they fail to meet this deadline, Ofcom may consider further enforcement action. Ofcom will continue to gather and assess evidence under this monitoring and enforcement programme, and expects to provide a further update after three months.

CDEI publishes report on enabling responsible access to demographic data to make AI systems fairer

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation has published a report on approaches to accessing demographic data for bias detection and mitigation. Over the last year, CDEI has been exploring the challenges around access to demographic data for detecting and mitigating bias in AI systems, and the potential of novel solutions to address these challenges. Organisations who use AI systems should monitor the outcomes of these systems to ensure they are fair. However, many techniques for detecting and mitigating bias in AI systems rely on access to data about the demographic traits of service users, and many service providers struggle to access the data they need. In a period where algorithmic bias has been a major focus in academia and industry, approaches to data access have received relatively little attention, despite often being highlighted as a major constraint. The report sets out the main barriers service providers face when seeking to collect demographic data for bias detection and mitigation, and explores two promising groups of novel approaches to addressing some of them: data intermediaries and proxies.

UK government publishes updated Geospatial Strategy

The UK government has updated its Geospatial Strategy. Geospatial applications and services have become an intrinsic part of everyday life, enabling routine activities and improving individual consumer experiences from instant journey planners to ever faster delivery of goods. The insights that these services provide are vital for businesses and the delivery of public services. The potential of location data is enhanced by enabling technologies, such as AI and cloud computing, which have caused disruption and opened up huge new capabilities. The Strategy has three missions: embrace enabling technologies to accelerate geospatial innovation; drive greater use of geospatial applications and insights across the economy; and build confidence in the future geospatial ecosystem.

EU law

Council of the EU adopts its negotiating mandate on new product liability Directive

The Council of the EU has agreed its negotiating mandate for a new EU Directive on liability for defective products. Once it has been finally adopted, the law aims to update decades-old civil liability rules and make them fit for the digital age and circular economy. It extends the definition of product to digital manufacturing files and software. Due to the increasing technical complexity of many products, the law will require that an injured person who claims compensation has access to relevant evidence on how a product was produced. In a circular economy, products are designed to be more durable, reusable, reparable and upgradeable. When a product is modified substantially and is made available on the market or put into service again, it will be considered a new product. If the modification is not made by the original manufacturer, the Directive provides that the person that made the substantial modification should be held liable. Because consumers are increasingly buying from manufacturers based outside of the EU, the new Directive provides for the same level of protection against defective products coming from non-EU manufacturers as for products from EU manufacturers. It stipulates that the importer of the defective product, the authorised representative of the manufacturer or, as a last resort, the fulfilment service provider (a company that typically takes care of the warehousing, packaging and dispatching of a product) can be held liable for damages. Entitlement to compensation expires after 10 years from the placing on the market of the defective product. If symptoms of a personal injury are slow to emerge, the expiry period is 20 years. One of the Directive’s objectives is to ensure that consumers will have a fair change of getting compensation in complex cases. The Council has therefore streamlined the presumptions that apply when claimants are faced with excessive difficulties, in particular due to the technical or scientific complexity of the case. In these cases, the claimant is only required to prove the likelihood that the product was defective or that its defectiveness is a likely cause of the damage.

Electronic evidence: new rules to speed up cross-border criminal investigations

The European Commission estimates that electronic evidence is relevant to 85% of criminal investigations, and in 65% of these cases, the evidence needs to be obtained from another member state. Evidence can consist of content data (such as text, voice, images, video or sound), traffic data (for example, timestamps, protocol and compression details, and information about recipients) or subscriber data (identifying information for a subscriber or customer). Currently, exchanging this kind of evidence depends on a variety of bilateral and international agreements on mutual legal assistance (MLA), resulting in a fragmented landscape and, often, lengthy procedures. The European Parliament has now adopted new rules on the exchange of electronic evidence, speed up the process of evidence gathering, and maintain safeguards for fundamental rights. The new rules will allow national authorities to request evidence directly from service providers in other member states (so-called “production orders”), or ask that data be preserved for up to 60 days, so that relevant data will not be destroyed or lost (“preservation orders”). The law also introduces a mandatory deadline of ten days for responding to a production order (eight hours in emergency cases). As part of the same package, MEPs adopted a Directive mandating service providers that offer services in the EU to name designated establishments or legal representatives where member state authorities can address electronic evidence requests.