American tech giants Facebook and Google may soon face mammoth penalties in the UK if they fail to control the spread of fake news, hate speech, and other kinds of harmful content, according to an upcoming policy paper, reports Business Insider.

The paper focuses on internet safety, and calls for the formation of a regulator independent of the British government to protect users from harmful online content. The body will determine what constitutes harmful content and penalize firms for failing to take action to remove inappropriate content.

  • The government is taking a ‘holistic’ approach of what harmful content is
  • The proposed regulator will examine everything from illegal hate speech, such as ISIS recruitment videos, racism, child abuse, online child grooming, suicide and self-harm content
  • James said that although platforms are not to blame for harmful content, it is their fault if they fail to remove it promptly “before it proliferates” 

UK’s digital minister Margot James said that the government will develop a sanctions regime that is “not too dissimilar from the powers that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) already has.” James said that a guiding principle is: “what is illegal and unacceptable offline should be illegal and unacceptable online.” ICO is the UK’s enforcing body for the GDPR.

The ICO has the mandate to levy penalties of up to 4% of a company’s global revenue. James hinted at the ICO’s penalty sizes as indicative of fines that the new regulator could impose. “There will be a powerful sanction regime and it’s inconceivable that it won’t include financial penalties,” she said.

Tech regulation worldwide

The US Federal Trade Commission said that it would launch a task force to monitor competition in the country’s technology markets. The task force comes amid growing pressure for antitrust action against large tech companies like Facebook and Google.

Earlier this week, Google shuffled its global pubic policy team amidst pressure due to “increased responsibilities”, public focus on tech, and the company’s growth. Within the last year, Google and Facebook have faced multiple penalties across Europe and the US:

  • February 2019: Facebook could face a record-breaking multi-billion dollar penalty from the US FTC for privacy violations relating to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
  • January 2019: France’s data regulator CNIL fined Google 50 million euros for being in breach of the GDPR, over lack of transparency, and valid consent for ads personalization.
  • October 2018: Facebook was fined £500,000 by the ICO for the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
  • July 2018: The European Commission fined Google with a record-breaking fine of $5 billion for violating anti-trust laws. The commission said that Google abused its dominance to bundle its products into the Android OS, among other things.

Additionally, India’s anti-trust regulator the Competition Commission of India is looking into accusations that Google is abusing its mobile OS to block competitors

Privacy complaints received by tech giants’ favorite EU watchdog up more than 2x since GDPR