Tech giants including Facebook and Google could face huge fines in the U.K. for not removing “toxic”or “harmful” content from their platforms.
Business Insider reports that the British government plans to fine tech giants such as Google and Facebook billions of dollars if they fail to properly police content on their platforms. The U.K.’s digital minister Margot James recently announced that a new independent tech regulator will be given the authority to fine and punish tech firms which fail to protect their users.
A full policy paper on internet safety is expected to be released next month which will go into more detail about the powers of the independent regulator. The regulator will decide what constitutes harmful content and will reportedly hit tech firms that refuse to remove the content in a timely manner with severe penalties.
James stated that the independent body will develop a fining and penalty system “that is not too dissimilar from the powers that the ICO [Information Commissioner’s Office] already has.” The ICO currently has the ability to levy fines of up to four percent of global revenue against companies that fail to protect their user’s data. Based on Facebook’s 2018 revenue of $55.8 billion, it could receive a fine of up to $2.2 billion.
James further commented on the role of the tech regulator stating: “There will be a powerful sanction regime and it’s inconceivable that it won’t include financial penalties. And they will have to be of a size to act as a deterrent. If you look at the ICO’s fining powers, that might be a useful guide to what we’re thinking about.”
The regulator will be examing all forms of content on social media platforms, from ISIS videos and terrorist content to “hate speech,” racism and even child abuse or grooming. Misinformation or “fake news” will also reportedly be investigated by the regulator but James admitted that: “These judgments are not necessarily clear,” and added that the general rule will be: “what is illegal and unacceptable offline should be illegal and unacceptable online.”
Damian Collins, the Chairman of the U.K.’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, commented on the issue to Business Insider stating: “A strong sanctions scheme will be essential to ensure that the tech companies abide by the proposals that the government is to set out shortly. I welcome the Minister’s position. As we have seen from examples such as the NetzDG legislation in Germany, tech companies listen with their wallets, and if they fail in their responsibilities then they should face sizeable penalties.”