Social media apps on phone

Tech firms could be fined up to £18bn if they fail to protect users

Image credit: Marcel De Grijs/Dreamstime

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has revealed social media companies could be fined as much as £18bn under the government’s new online safety reforms.

Dorries outlined the possible scale of the punishments available as part of the forthcoming Online Safety Bill after concerns over the behaviour of some tech firms were raised in the House of Commons.

The legislation is expected to force the biggest operators, such as Meta – formerly Facebook – and Google, to abide by a duty of care to users.

All activity seen on these platforms will be overseen by Ofcom as the new regulator for the sector.

Conservative MP Saqib Bhatti (Meriden) said: “Last year, I wrote to five of the major social media companies with 50 of my colleagues, calling for meaningful change, asking them to recognise their moral duty to make this change.

“Only three of the five social media companies even bothered to reply to that piece of correspondence, which concerns me they are not taking this matter seriously enough.”

Bhatti addressed Dorries about the matter and sought confirmation that she will be characteristically robust about making meaningful changes in the legislation that comes forward.

Dorries said she was “disappointed” to hear about the response from the tech companies but “not surprised”.

She added: “We will bring forward legislation which will introduce sanctions, including some pretty steep fines – 10 per cent of global annual turnover – which could be as much as £18bn, so there will be some considerable sanctions within the Bill, and he is absolutely right.”

Dorries stressed the government shouldn’t have to press on this; the moral responsibility for those organisations is to provide the protections that young people require, she said.

“These platforms could be doing what they need to do right now. They didn’t need the Bill,” she explained. “They could remove those harmful algorithms right now.”

In other news, France’s data privacy watchdog CNIL has fined Google and Facebook a total of more than €200m (£167m) for not making it as easy for people to opt-out of online tracking as it is for them to accept it.

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