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British Parliament blasts Facebook over data privacy in scathing report

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / January 2017

    A British parliamentary committee report on Facebook calls for new regulations to rein in the technology industry.

LONDON >> After 18 months investigating Facebook and online misinformation, a British parliamentary committee issued a scathing report today, accusing the company of breaking data privacy and competition laws and calling for new regulations to rein in the technology industry.

Repeated scandals involving Facebook and other tech companies demand more government oversight, the committee concluded, including laws making internet companies legally liable for content shared on their websites.

“The era of self-regulation for tech companies should come to an end,” said Damian Collins, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which published the report.

The conclusions in Britain add to momentum globally for new regulations against the technology sector. Europe has been the most aggressive in taking on Silicon Valley, but a tougher approach is gaining ground in the United States, where the Federal Trade Commission is considering imposing a multi-billion dollar fine against Facebook, and lawmakers have called for new data-privacy regulations.

The parliamentary report recommends the creation of a British watchdog to oversee the technology industry, similar to the country’s approach to regulating media companies. It also suggested legally requiring Facebook and other large internet platforms to remove what the government determines to be harmful content, or risk fines or other punishments.

“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 parliamentary report said.

Facebook acknowledged past mistakes and said it was open to “meaningful regulation.”

“While we still have more to do, we are not the same company we were a year ago,” said Karim Palant, a public policy manager for Facebook in Britain. “We have tripled the size of the team working to detect and protect users from bad content to 30,000 people and invested heavily in machine learning, artificial intelligence and computer vision technology to help prevent this type of abuse.”

The committee does not have lawmaking authority on its own, but Collins said in an interview that he hoped the recommendations would be incorporated into a broader review of technology regulation underway within the British government.

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