UK home secretary warns tech companies over Christchurch content

Sajid Javid says online platforms have a responsibility “not to do the terrorists’ work.’

Tech companies that “don’t clean up their platforms” must be “prepared to face the force of the law,” U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid said today.

The warning was delivered in reaction to Friday’s terror attack in New Zealand, which left 49 people dead and 20 seriously injured after a shooter targeted two mosques in the city of Christchurch.

Javid’s statement comes as the U.K. government prepares to publish a delayed “online harms” white paper this month, setting out how it plans to impose a duty of care on tech companies.

Writing in the Express, Javid said online platforms have a responsibility “not to do the terrorists’ work for them.” The Christchurch gunman filmed his attack and live-streamed it to Facebook. “Tech companies must do more to stop his messages being broadcast on their platforms,” Javid wrote.

“Allowing terrorists to glorify in the bloodshed or spread more extremist views can only lead to more radicalisation and murders,” he continued.

“This is the type of illegal behaviour that our new Online Harms White Paper will address.”


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Tommy Robinson banned from Facebook and Instagram

Far-right activist has ‘repeatedly broken’ policies and standards.

Facebook and Instagram have banned British far-right activist Tommy Robinson for breaking hate speech policies and “violating our community standards,” Facebook announced Tuesday.

Robinson had “repeatedly broken” standards by “posting material that uses dehumanizing language and calls for violence targeted at Muslims,” Facebook said in the statement. “He has also behaved in ways that violate our policies around organized hate.”

“As a result, in accordance with our policies, we have removed Tommy Robinson’s official Facebook Page and Instagram profile. This is not a decision we take lightly, but individuals and organizations that attack others on the basis of who they are have no place on Facebook or Instagram.”

Robinson’s official Facebook page had more than 1 million followers.

Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, said the ban is “clear evidence of the tech giants working alongside the establishment in order to silence criticism,” CNN reported. “The more you try to censor me the more people will want to hear from us.”

Robinson is already banned from Twitter, the Guardian said.


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UK Parliament seizes internal Facebook documents

Cambridge Analytica scandal continues to dog the tech giant

The U.K. Parliament entered “unchartered territory” to seize internal Facebook documents that hold information about the firm’s decisions that led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, The Guardian reported Sunday.

The documents could help reveal how Cambridge Analytica managed to misuse Facebook data belonging to millions of people to influence democratic processes, like the U.S. elections and the Brexit referendum.

Damian Collins, the chair of the Parliament’s committee on culture, media and sport, obtained the information by sending a senior Parliament official to the hotel room of the founder of U.S. software firm Six4Three to seize the documents, who was visiting London for business. When Six4Three failed to hand over the documents the Parliament’s serjeant at arms escorted the executive to Parliament where he was warned that he faced prison time if he refused the order.

Six4Three owner Ted Kramer CNN this summer that “Facebook itself is the biggest violator of data misuse in the history of the software industry.”

The seized documents are reported to include confidential emails between senior executives within Facebook, and correspondence with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.

“This is an unprecedented move but it’s an unprecedented situation,” said Collins. “We’ve failed to get answers from Facebook and we believe the documents contain information of very high public interest.”

Zuckerberg has repeatedly refused to face Parliament’s questions about the Cambridge Analytica scandal despite several attempts to summon the Facebook CEO. That refusal forced MPs to explore other options to get their hand on more information about Facebook’s operations, Collins said.


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Tim Berners-Lee: ‘I don’t regret creating the web’

But the creator of the world wide web wants governments, companies and citizens to reshape the internet for the 21st century.

LISBON — Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the world wide web, has no regrets.

Despite trolls, misinformation and harmful content filling up the internet, the 63-year-old British engineer said he believed the positive effects of his creation outweighed its downsides — though he warned about the need to keep the web open and free for all.

“I don’t regret creating the web,” Berners-Lee told POLITICO at Web Summit, a technology conference in the Portuguese capital.

But, he added: “A couple of years ago, I realized there was a change of attitudes. We can’t assume that connectivity will inevitably lead to more understanding.”

Twenty-eight years after Berners-Lee’s invention, his World Wide Web Foundation published a manifesto on Monday urging governments and companies around the world to boost connectivity, give people greater control over their data and provide a safe haven for debate.

His call for greater control over personal data echoes a shift among policymakers, who on both sides of the Atlantic are pushing for greater restrictions on the global digital ecosystem.

From a digital tax in the United Kingdom to multibillion-euro antitrust fines from the European Commission against Google, officials are moving to sanction and impose rules on digital giants.

Digital rights campaigners are similarly trying to keep the web open to all, avoiding a so-called “splinternet” in which different countries or regions follow contrasting rules of the online highway. Tech giants are also looking to reshape their relationship with users amid concerns that the balance of power has shifted too much in favor of some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names, particularly in light of recent data scandals at tech giants like Facebook.

“We believe we need stronger rules that give people greater control,” Mounir Mahjoubi, France’s digital minister, told POLITICO in Lisbon. “The web can’t just be decided by the strongest actors.”

France is the first government to sign up to Berners-Lee’s new pledge, whose goals include promises to make it easier for all to access the internet, protect people’s rights online and keep the web safe from harmful material.

The European government joins 57 other organizations, including Google and Facebook, which similarly have pledged to spend the next six months working together to draw up proposals for how such lofty expectations can be put into practice. The aim, according to the Web Foundation, is to hold regular meetings between now and May, to hammer out the details and unveil a so-called “contract for the web” in late spring, 2019.

“A lot of discussion is a first good step,” Berners-Lee said. “We can set the agenda for lots of people.”

From talk to action

Much will depend on how the disparate organizations — everyone from Google and Facebook to Access Now, the digital rights group, and Tom Wheeler, the former head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission — work with each other.

Despite common ground over removing the worst malicious content from the web and giving people control over their online information, many of these groups and individuals stand on different sides of the debate over how the internet should be regulated.

Such differences — including the role of large tech players in wider society and potential restrictions on government surveillance — are likely to come to the surface as Berners-Lee’s Web Foundation seeks to find compromises between the players over the future of the web.

France’s involvement in the project is particularly calculated.

While Emmanuel Macron, the country’s president, has made it his goal to make France more welcoming to startups and the rest of the tech industry, his government similarly has been championing the need for more regulation over large tech companies, as well as the potential imposition of new taxes on revenues generated from digital services.

“France wants to lead the way,” said Mahjoubi, the French digital minister. “We want to make the web impactful for the whole of humanity.”


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