Facebook slammed by UK government

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(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Facebook is in need of far stricter regulation due to its inability to stop the spread of fake news, and also for failing to keep user data private, a government report has said.

The declaration by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee follows a year-long investigation into Facebook's failings, and recommends that the UK puts far stricter restrictions on the social media giant immediately.

Although focusing on several other companies, including Google and YouTube, the report called out Facebook for specific criticism, particularly over its failings to stop the spread of 'disinformation'.

Facebook data privacy

"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 every day," the report's conclusion read.

"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."

Facebook's links to discredited firm Cambridge Analytica came under particular scrutiny, with the site criticised for its lax handling of users' private data. The site was fined £500,000 by the ICO last year, the maximum penalty under GDPR law, for mishandling user data in the scandal.

The committee report claimed this point to be a "radical shift in the balance of power between social media platforms and the people" and recommended greater regulation on Facebook's gathering of personal information.

It called for a compulsory code of ethics for tech companies, overseen by an independent regulator, social media companies to be forced to take down known sources of harmful content, including proven sources of disinformation, and for tech companies operating in the UK to be taxed to help fund the work for the Information Commissioner's Office and any new regulator set up to oversee them.

In response, Facebook said it welcomed the report's findings, and said it would be amenable to "meaningful regulation".

"We share the committee's concerns about false news and election integrity and are pleased to have made a significant contribution to their investigation over the past 18 months, answering more than 700 questions and with four of our most senior executives giving evidence," the company said.

We have already made substantial changes so that every political ad on Facebook has to be authorised, state who is paying for it and then is stored in a searchable archive for seven years. No other channel for political advertising is as transparent and offers the tools that we do."