Social media companies need increased scrutiny, new categorization, UK committee says

The scandals that have plagued Facebook for more than two years have led a UK committee to a stark conclusion: Social media companies pose unique problems that require a new kind of regulation.

The UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee released its 108-page final report on disinformation and fake news in London on Monday, detailing various investigations that included Facebook’s data privacy practices, moderation of its content and advertising targeting based on company data. Platform.

It includes a strong rebuke of Facebook’s actions, including the allegation that it “intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws.”

“Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, seeing themselves ahead and beyond the law,” the report adds.

The report adds to growing calls from activists, academics and politicians for increased scrutiny of tech companies that have filtered for years but gained attention after discovery of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 US election. These calls also mark a significant change for social media companies that had previously shied away from taking responsibility for the content posted on their networks or the way their advertising platforms were used.

A demo booth at Facebook’s annual F8 Developer Conference on April 18, 2017, in San Jose, Calif.Noah Berger / AP file

“Social media companies cannot hide behind the pretense of being just a ‘platform’ and argue that they have no responsibility themselves in regulating the content of their sites,” wrote the committee in its report.

The report also concluded that the UK’s existing laws are unable to effectively regulate Facebook and other major tech platforms. It calls for the creation of a “new class” of businesses that would have greater legal responsibility for regulating the content that users download and how its advertising systems are used.

The report recommended that social media companies be required to adhere to a “mandatory code of ethics, overseen by an independent regulator” that would decide what type of content to ban. It would also establish a legal framework for fining companies if they are found not to be effectively enforcing these rules.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg turned down requests to appear before the committee, a move the report said showed “contempt for both the British Parliament and the ‘Grand International Committee’, involving members from nine legislative assemblies around the world ”.

The report also details Facebook’s past data privacy practices that have come under scrutiny in the UK and US, where the Washington Post reported that Facebook was facing a record fine of several. billion dollars from the Federal Trade Commission. In October, the UK Information Commissioner’s Office fined Facebook £ 500,000 (around $ 644,000) for failing to ensure user privacy in connection with the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Karim Palant, Facebook’s UK public policy manager, said in an emailed statement that Facebook agreed with the report’s calls for changes to election laws that would effectively address digital advertising issues and stressed the changes he had already made.

“We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee’s recommendation for electoral law reform. But we don’t wait, ”Palant said. “We have already made substantial changes so that every political ad on Facebook must be authorized, indicate who pays for it, and then be stored in a searchable archive for 7 years. No other political advertising channel is as transparent and offers the tools that we do. “

Palant also said that Facebook supports data privacy laws.

“While we still have more to do, we’re not the same company we were a year ago,” Palant wrote. “We have tripled the size of the team responsible for detecting and protecting users from malicious content to 30,000 people and have invested heavily in machine learning, artificial intelligence and computer vision technology to help prevent this type of abuse. “

Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, a business group that represents media organizations, said the report’s takeaways were important but also shouldn’t be limited to the UK.

“It is essential to understand that the main findings of the report are global challenges that are not limited to the UK,” Kint wrote in an email.

Kint, a vocal Facebook critic, noted that some of Facebook’s data practices referenced in the report came after a deal with the FTC – a detail he said underscored that the company had not changed its habits.

“Facebook’s inability to prioritize security concerns over profit despite being subject to an FTC consent order in the United States speaks volumes,” Kint wrote.

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