To keep its citizens safe on the internet, the UK government is working on a bill that will mandate online tech platforms to verify their users’ identities.
Online trolls in the UK will soon have no hiding place as the government introduces a bill requiring online platforms to step up their safety game. The bill will require Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the rest to verify your identity.
The government allows the tech companies to decide how they will carry out checks when you register or sign up for an account. Suggested methods include facial recognition by comparing your face to your profile picture, two-factor authentication, and government-backed ID.
The bill also proposes to force companies to filter out harmful materials, regardless of whether they are legal. This will aid parents trying to protect their children from assessing such materials, for example, through search results.
Also, the proposal requires companies with the largest numbers of users and highest reach to give users the means to control who can interact with them. Meanwhile, the already tasks in-scope companies to respond to harmful content posted anonymously on their platforms and manage the risks of anonymous users. This could include banning repeat offenders associated with abusive behavior, preventing them from creating new accounts, or limiting their functionality.
In its press release, the UK government explains the reasoning behind the proposed online safety bill. “Over the past year, people in the public eye, including England’s Euro 2020 footballers, have suffered horrendous racist abuse. Female politicians have received abhorrent death and rape threats, and there is repeated evidence of ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ people being subject to coordinated harassment and trolling.”
For companies that fail to comply, the bill proposes fines of up to 10 percent of their annual revenue globally. This can potentially run into billions of dollars or pounds for giants like Google and Facebook. Other measures to ensure compliance include blocking access to the defaulting company’s services in the UK.
The UK has been toying with the idea of online safety rules since 2018, but incidents of racial abuse of black members of the English soccer team have increased support for the move. A petition calling on the government to implement such rules has garnered about 700,000 signatures.
Meanwhile, experts have warned that at-risk groups like the LGBTQ+ or minorities would lose the protection afforded by online anonymity. It will also expose whistleblowers to risks.
UK digital Minister Nadine Dorries said in a statement. “Tech firms have a responsibility to stop anonymous trolls polluting their platforms. We have listened to calls for us to strengthen our new online safety laws and are announcing new measures to put greater power in the hands of social media users themselves. People will now have more control over who can contact them and be able to stop the tidal wave of hate served up to them by rogue algorithms.”
Reacting to the proposal, Twitter told CNBC, “We are reviewing the details of the new proposed duties. Our focus remains on a safe internet for all — whether or not someone is able to or chooses to verify themselves.” The company also pointed out that anonymity is essential for speaking out in oppressive regimes.