New online safety law to put tech giants into the dock

fraud2The Government has vowed to hit social media and search engine giants where it hurts, with potential fines of 10% of their turnover, if they fail to remove scams from their sites.

As evidence mounts that tech giants Google, Facebook and Microsoft are failing to act fast enough to remove scam ads – leaving firms to “run riot” and swindle consumers out of billions of pounds – the new Online Safety Bill will make them responsible by law for the online safety of users.

The bill is part of a wave of planned legislation aimed at regulating big tech, set to be confirmed this week by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Ofcom, which will police the law, will have regulatory powers to fine companies £18m or 10% of a company’s overall turnover if they fail to comply.

The communications watchdog appears to have a much better record at collecting penalties than the Information Commissioner’s Office, mainly because it deals with larger, established businesses whose only recourse is the courts rather than the fly by night telemarketing rogues who often just shut up shop to avoid further action.

In the past two years, Ofcom has fined Royal Mail £50m, whacked O2 with a £10.5m penalty, hit Virgin Media for £7m and clobbered BT for £6.3m.

A recent Which? investigation revealed that Google had failed to remove 34% of the scam ads reported to it, while at Facebook the figure was 26%. Both companies insist they remove fraudulent ads, which are banned on their platforms, but Which? is demanding a more proactive approach.

Google has around a 90% share of the UK market in keyword search ads, leaving fraudsters easy access to advertise scams through the platform.

The Work & Pensions Committee has said that it is“immoral” for big tech to profit from scammers using their platforms to post ads.

One member of the Committee told The Times: “It should not require legislative solutions to deter global firms from benefiting from the proceeds of crime but unfortunately legislation is clearly needed. It is immoral that tech firms such as Google are accepting payment to advertise scams and then further payment from regulators to warn about the scam.”

Which? chief executive Anabel Hoult told The Times: “The biggest online platforms have some of the most sophisticated technology in the world, yet they are failing to use it to protect scam victims who are suffering devastating financial and emotional harm due to the flood of fake and fraudulent content posted online by criminals.

“The time for self-regulation is over, as clearly it has not worked. The case for including scams in the Online Safety Bill is overwhelming and the government must take the opportunity to act now.”

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