Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law, a hard-hitting report on ‘fake news’ by an influential committee of UK parliament said on Monday.
The final report on ‘Disinformation and “Fake News”’ by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of parliament examined leading lights in major online companies, including Cambridge Analytica that was involved in some elections and campaigns in India.
Facebook, it says, intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws, and makes a number of recommendations, including a compulsory code of ethics for tech companies overseen by independent regulator.
It also called for the UK regulator to be given powers to launch legal action against companies breaching code and a reform of current electoral communications laws and rules on overseas involvement in UK elections.
Social media companies should be obliged to take down known sources of harmful content, including proven sources of disinformation, the committee says, after finding that electoral law in the United Kingdom is ‘not fit for purpose’.
Damian Collins, committee chair, said: “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”.
Most of the evidence the committee scrutinised focused on the business practices of Facebook, before, during and after the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal. Collins said the committee believes that Facebook has often “deliberately sought to frustrate our work, by giving incomplete, disingenuous and at times misleading answers to our questions”.
He added: “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”, he added.
© 2019 the Hindustan Times (New Delhi)
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