UK considers holding Big Tech accountable for scam Internet ads

U.K. ministers have been told they should make tech firms liable for hosting scam adverts.

Media regulator Ofcom should sanction web companies that consistently host paid advertising which leads to fraud or disinformation, according to a 194-page report published Tuesday by a cross-party panel of lawmakers.

The report is pushing for dozens of revisions to the U.K.’s forthcoming Online Safety Bill, a wide-ranging bill aimed at cracking down on Big Tech, a draft of which was published in May.

The panel’s chair Damian Collins hopes the law will tame a “Wild West” online which lets tech companies profit at the expense of people’s well-being.

It’s one of the first attempts in the world to draw up legislation and safeguards to tackle the proliferation of illegal and harmful content, hosted by companies like Facebook-owner Meta Platforms Inc. Ministers now have several weeks to respond to the joint committee’s findings and expect to bring the bill to Parliament by March.

Specific Offenses

Ministers should remove a clause which would risk giving the biggest tech platforms authority to decide what content is “harmful” to adults, according to the report.

“We are bringing onto the face of the bill a lot more specific offenses in law,” said Collins in an interview. “So we can address on the face of the bill racial abuse, self-harm, and things like that.”

The report also says the bill needs more checks and balances, arguing that it gives the Culture Secretary too much power to designate new offenses and to interfere with Ofcom.

In the two years since it was conceived, the bill has become increasingly complicated and has sparked opposition from activists concerned about freedom of speech. The panel also said it was too complex and said it should be re-written to begin clearly with its intended purpose.

Media regulator Ofcom will gain a raft of new powers under the bill. It will audit internet companies’ safety measures, and will need to assess how much risk they pose to determine the appropriate category of regulation to apply, if the report’s recommendations are accepted.

The report also recommends:

  • A permanent joint panel be created to scrutinize digital regulation.
  • The U.K. create an ombudsman for users to appeal with complaints.
  • Ofcom should outline standards for age-assurance technology, to protect children.
  • Ofcom should produce a code of practice for safe software design for platforms to consider.
  • Tech companies should be obliged to apply terms and conditions about disinformation consistently.
  • If senior tech executives fail to act on safety concerns, they should face criminal sanctions within six months of the bill being written into law.

Now read: These are the companies that control South Africa’s Internet

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UK considers holding Big Tech accountable for scam Internet ads