Tech giants like Google and Facebook, already under fire for not doing enough to combat extremism and fake news, could face new taxes in the United Kingdom if a government official has his way.
Britain may impose new taxes on tech companies unless they do more to fight online extremism by removing material that radicalizes people or helps them to prepare attacks, Conservative Party security minister Ben Wallace said.
Wallace claimed tech firms were happy to sell people’s data but not to give it to the government, which is spending vast sums on de-radicalization programs, surveillance and other counter-terrorism measures.
“If they continue to be less than cooperative, we should look at things like tax as a way of incentivizing them or compensating for their inaction,” Wallace told the Sunday Times newspaper in an interview.
The newspaper reported that any demand would take the form of a windfall tax similar to one imposed on privatized utilities in 1997.
Wallace accused the tech giants of putting private profit before public safety.
“We should stop pretending that because they sit on beanbags in T-shirts they are not ruthless profiteers,” he said. “They will ruthlessly sell our details to loans and soft-porn companies but not give it to our democratically elected government.”
Facebook policy director Simon Milner rejected the criticisms in a statement to Reuters.
“Mr. Wallace is wrong to say that we put profit before safety, especially in the fight against terrorism,” he said in an emailed statement. “We’ve invested millions of pounds in people and technology to identify and remove terrorist content.”
YouTube, which is owned by Google, said it was doing more every day to tackle violent extremism.
“Over the course of 2017 we have made significant progress through investing in machine learning technology, recruiting more reviewers, building partnerships with experts and collaboration with other companies,” a YouTube spokeswoman said.
Britain suffered a series of attacks by Islamic extremists this year that killed a total of 36 people, not including the attackers. Two involved vehicles ramming people on bridges in London, followed by attackers stabbing people. The deadliest, a bombing at a concert in Manchester, killed 22 people and injured 119 others.
“We are more vulnerable than at any point in the last 100 years,” said Wallace, citing extremist material on social media and encrypted messaging services.
“Because content is not being taken down as quickly as they could do, we’re having to de-radicalize people who have been radicalized. That’s costing millions," Wallace said. "They can’t get away with that and we should look at all the options, including tax.”
However, Facebook said it removed 83 percent of uploaded copies of terrorist content within one hour of its being found.
Facebook, which is being scrutinized by regulators in Germany and France for how it handles privacy and monetizes users' data, has said it would double the number of people working in its safety and security teams to 20,000 by the end of 2018.