Archive for the ‘Internet Social Media’ Category

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internet association logo The world’s biggest internet companies including Facebook, Google and Twitter are represented by a trade group call The Internet Association. This organisation has written to UK government ministers to outline how they believe harmful online activity should be regulated.The letter has been sent to the culture, health and home secretaries. The letter will be seen as a pre-emptive move in the coming negotiation over new rules to govern the internet. The government is due to publish a delayed White Paper on online harms in the coming weeks.

The letter outlines six principles:

  • “Be targeted at specific harms, using a risk-based approach
  • “Provide flexibility to adapt to changing technologies, different services and evolving societal expectations
  • “Maintain the intermediary liability protections that enable the internet to deliver significant benefits for consumers, society and the economy
  • “Be technically possible to implement in practice
  • “Provide clarity and certainty for consumers, citizens and internet companies
  • “Recognise the distinction between public and private communication”

Many leading figures in the UK technology sector fear a lack of expertise in government, and hardening public sentiment against the excesses of the internet, will push the Online Harms paper in a more radical direction.

Three of the key areas of debate are the definition of online harm, the lack of liability for third-party content, and the difference between public and private communication.

The companies insist that government should recognise the distinction between clearly illegal content and content which is harmful, but not illegal. If these leading tech companies believe this government definition of harm is too broad, their insistence on a distinction between illegal and harmful content may be superseded by another set of problems.

The companies also defend the principle that platforms such as YouTube permit users to post and share information without fear that those platforms will be held liable for third-party content. Another area which will be of particular interest to the Home Office is the insistence that care should be taken to avoid regulation encroaching into the surveillance of private communications.

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UK Government arms Social media companies face criminal sanctions for failing to protect children from online harms, according to drafts of the Government’s White Paper circulating in Whitehall.

Civil servants are proposing a new corporate offence as an option in the White Paper plans for a tough new censor with the power to force social media firms to take down illegal content and to police legal but harmful material.

They see criminal sanctions as desirable and as an important part of a regulatory regime, said one source who added that there’s a recognition particularly on the Home Office side that this needs to be a regulator with teeth. The main issue they need to satisfy ministers on is extra-territoriality, that is can you apply this to non-UK companies like Facebook and YouTube? The belief is that you can.

The White Paper, which is due to published mid-March followed by a Summer consultation, is not expected to lay out as definitive a plan as previously thought. A decision on whether to create a brand new censor or use Ofcom is expected to be left open. A Whitehall source said:

Criminal sanctions are going to be put into the White Paper as an option. We are not necessarily saying we are going to do it but these are things that are open to us. They will be allied to a system of fines amounting to 4% of global turnover or Euros 20m, whichever is higher.

Government minister Jeremy Wright told the Telegraph this week he was especially focused on ensuring that technology companies enforce minimum age standards. He also indicated the Government w ould fulfill a manifesto commitment to a levy on social media firms, that could fund the new censorr.

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dcms facebook The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has published its final report on Disinformation and ‘fake news’. The report calls for:

  • Compulsory Code of Ethics for tech companies overseen by independent regulator

  • Regulator given powers to launch legal action against companies breaching code

  • Government to reform current electoral communications laws and rules on overseas involvement in UK elections

  • Social media companies obliged to take down known sources of harmful content, including proven sources of disinformation

Further finds that:

  • Electoral law ‘not fit for purpose’

  • Facebook intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws

Chair’s comment

Damian Collins MP, Chair of the DCMS Committee said:

“Our inquiry over the last year has identified three big threats to our society. The challenge for the year ahead is to start to fix them; we cannot delay any longer.

“Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use everyday. Much of this is directed from agencies working in foreign countries, including Russia.

“The big tech companies are failing in the duty of care they owe to their users to act against harmful content, and to respect their data privacy rights.

“Companies like Facebook exercise massive market power which enables them to make money by bullying the smaller technology companies and developers who rely on this platform to reach their customers.

“These are issues that the major tech companies are well aware of, yet continually fail to address. The guiding principle of the ‘move fast and break things’ culture often seems to be that it is better to apologise than ask permission.

“We need a radical shift in the balance of power between the platforms and the people. The age of inadequate self regulation must come to an end. The rights of the citizen need to be established in statute, by requiring the tech companies to adhere to a code of conduct written into law by Parliament, and overseen by an independent regulator.

“We also have to accept that our electoral regulations are hopelessly out of date for the internet age. We need reform so that the same principles of transparency of political communications apply online, just as they do in the real world. More needs to be done to require major donors to clearly establish the source of their funds.

“Much of the evidence we have scrutinised during our inquiry has focused on the business practices of Facebook; before, during and after the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal.

“We believe that in its evidence to the Committee Facebook has often deliberately sought to frustrate our work, by giving incomplete, disingenuous and at times misleading answers to our questions.

“Even if Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t believe he is accountable to the UK Parliament, he is to the billions of Facebook users across the world. Evidence uncovered by my Committee shows he still has questions to answer yet he’s continued to duck them, refusing to respond to our invitations directly or sending representatives who don’t have the right information. Mark Zuckerberg continually fails to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies.

“We also repeat our call to the Government to make a statement about how many investigations are currently being carried out into Russian interference in UK politics. We want to find out what was the impact of disinformation and voter manipulation on past elections including the UK Referendum in 2016 and are calling on the Government to launch an independent investigation.”

Final Report

This Final Report on Disinformation and ‘Fake News’ repeats a number of recommendations from the interim report published last summer. The Committee calls for the Government to reconsider a number of recommendations to which it did not respond and to include concrete proposals for action in its forthcoming White Paper on online harms.
Independent regulation of social media companies.

The Report repeats a recommendation from the Interim Report for clear legal liabilities to be established for tech companies to act against harmful or illegal content on their sites, and the report calls for a compulsory Code of Ethics defining what constitutes harmful content. An independent regulator should be responsible for monitoring tech companies, backed by statutory powers to launch legal action against companies in breach of the code.

Companies failing obligations on harmful or illegal content would face hefty fines. MPs conclude: “Social media companies cannot hide behind the claim of being merely a ‘platform’ and maintain that they have no responsibility themselves in regulating the content of their sites.”

The Report’s recommendation chimes with recent statements by Ministers indicating the Government is prepared to regulate social media companies following the death of teenager Molly Russell. The Committee hopes to see firm recommendations for legislation in the White Paper to create a regulatory system for online content that is as effective as that for offline content.

It repeats its recommendation for new independent regulation to be funded by a levy on tech companies operating in the UK.

Data use and data targeting

The Report highlights Facebook documents obtained by the Committee and published in December 2018 relating to a Californian court case brought by app developer Six4Three. Through scrutiny of internal Facebook emails between 2011 and 2015, the Report finds evidence to indicate that the company was willing to: override its users’ privacy settings in order to transfer data to some app developers; to charge high prices in advertising to some developers, for the exchange of data, and starve some developers–such as Six4Three–of that data, contributing to them losing their business. MPs conclude: “It is evident that Facebook intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws.”

It recommends that the ICO carries out a detailed investigation into the practices of the Facebook platform, its use of users’ and users’ friends’ data, and the use of ‘reciprocity’ of the sharing of data. The CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) should conduct a comprehensive audit of the advertising market on social media and investigate whether Facebook has been involved in anti-competitive practices.

MPs note that Facebook, in particular, is unwilling to be accountable to regulators around the world: “By choosing not to appear before the Committee and by choosing not to respond personally to any of our invitations, Mark Zuckerberg has shown contempt towards both our Committee and the ‘International Grand Committee’ involving members from nine legislators from around the world.”

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open rights group 2016 logo There is every reason to believe that the government and opposition are moving to a consensus on introducing a duty of care for social media companies to reduce harm and risk to their users. This may be backed by an Internet regulator, who might decide what kind of mitigating actions are appropriate to address the risks to users on different platforms.

This idea originated from a series of papers by Will Perrin and Lorna Woods and has been mentioned most recently in a recent Science and Technology committee report and by NGOs including children’s charity 5Rights.

A duty of care has some obvious merits: it could be based on objective risks, based on evidence, and ensure that mitigations are proportionate to those risks. It could take some of the politicisation out of the current debate.

However, it also has obvious problems. For a start, it focuses on risk rather than process . It moves attention away from the fact that interventions are regulating social media users just as much as platforms. It does not by itself tell us that free expression impacts will be considered, tracked or mitigated.

Furthermore, the lack of focus that a duty of care model gives to process means that platform decisions that have nothing to do with risky content are not necessarily based on better decisions, independent appeals and so on. Rather, as has happened with German regulation, processes can remain unaffected when they are outside a duty of care.

In practice, a lot of content which is disturbing or offensive is already banned on online platforms. Much of this would not be in scope under a duty of care but it is precisely these kinds of material which users often complain about, when it is either not removed when they want it gone, or is removed incorrectly. Any model of social media regulation needs to improve these issues, but a duty of care is unlikely to touch these problems.

There are very many questions about the kinds of risk, whether to individual in general, vulnerable groups, or society at large; and the evidence required to create action. The truth is that a duty of care, if cast sensibly and narrowly, will not satisfy many of the people who are demanding action; equally, if the threshold to act is low, then it will quickly be seen to be a mechanism for wide-scale Internet censorship.

It is also a simple fact that many decisions that platforms make about legal content which is not risky are not the business of government to regulate. This includes decisions about what legal content is promoted and why. For this reason, we believe that a better approach might be to require independent self-regulation of major platforms across all of their content decisions. This requirement could be a legislative one, but the regulator would need to be independent of government and platforms.

Independent self-regulation has not been truly tried. Instead, voluntary agreements have filled its place. We should be cautious about moving straight to government regulation of social media and social media users. The government refuses to regulate the press in this way because it doesn’t wish to be seen to be controlling print media. It is pretty curious that neither the media nor the government are spelling out the risks of state regulation of the speech of millions of British citizens.

That we are in this place is of course largely the fault of the social media platforms themselves, who have failed to understand the need and value of transparent and accountable systems to ensure they are acting properly. That, however, just demonstrates the problem: politically weak platforms who have created monopoly positions based on data silos are now being sliced and diced at the policy table for their wider errors. It’s imperative that as these government proposals progress we keep focus on the simple fact that it is end users whose speech will ultimately be regulated.

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DCMS logo Wrangling in Whitehall has held up plans to set up a social media censor dubbed Ofweb, The Mail on Sunday reveals.The Government was due to publish a White Paper this winter on censorship of tech giants but this Mail has learnt it is still far from ready. Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said it would be published within a month, but a Cabinet source said that timeline was wholly unrealistic. Other senior Government sources went further and said the policy document is unlikely to surface before the Spring.

Key details on how a new censor would work have yet to be decided while funding from the Treasury has not yet been secured. Another problem is that some Ministers believe the proposed clampdown is too draconian and are preparing to try to block or water down the plan.

There are also concerns that technically difficult requirements would benefit the largest US companies as smaller European companies and start ups would not be able to afford the technology and development required.

The Mail on Sunday understands Jeremy Wright has postponed a visit to Facebook HQ in California to discuss the measures, as key details are still up in the air.

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arms of the british governmentjpg logo The U.K. government is rushing to finalize a draft internet censorship law particularly targeting social media but key details of the proposal have yet to be finalised amid concerns about stifling innovation.Government officials have been meeting with industry players, MPs, peers and other groups over the past month as they try to finalise their proposals.

People involved in those discussions said there is now broad agreement about the need to impose a new duty of care on big tech companies, as well as the need to back up their terms and conditions with the force of law.

A white paper is due be published by the end of winter. But the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which is partly responsible for writing up the new rules alongside the Home Office, is still deliberating over key aspects with just weeks to go until the government said it would unveil an outline of its proposals.

Among the sticking points are worries that regulation could stifle innovation in one of the U.K. economy’s most thriving sectors and concerns over whether it can keep pace with rapid technological change. Another is ensuring sufficient political support to pass the law despite likely opposition from parts of the Conservative Party. A third is deciding what regulatory agency would ultimately be responsible for enforcing the so-called Internet Safety Law.

A major unresolved question is what censorship body will be in charge of enforcing laws that could expose big tech companies to greater liability for hosted content, a prospect that firms including Google and Facebook have fought at the European level.

Several people who spoke to POLITICO said the government does not appear to have settled on who would be the censor, although the communications regulator Ofcom is very much in the mix, however there are concerns that Ofcom is already getting too big.

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home affairs committee People convicted of insulting people online should be named and shamed on a government register of offenders under new laws to censor social media, says an all-party committee of MPs.The Commons petitions committee claimed new laws were needed to combat online harms because current legislation was not fit for purpose and self-regulation by the social media firms had failed.

The committee was responding to a petition, backed by more than 220,000 people, from reality TV star and model Katie Price who demanded new online laws and a register of offenders after her disabled son, Harvey, was viciously trolled for his condition, colour and size.

The MPs believe a criminal law, which covered online abuse and included proper recognition of hate crimes against disabled people, will achieve what the petition is looking for from a register, as criminal convictions will show up as part of a Disclosure and Barring Service check, said the MPs.

The committee said a high proportion of abusive content related to football with most shockingly the name of Harvey Price used by fans as an insult for someone’s ability as a footballer.