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UK may tax internet giants to get more help fighting online extremism

It's betting money speaks louder than words.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
December 31, 2017
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Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images

The UK still isn't convinced that internet giants are doing enough to curb online extremism, and it's now considering hitting those companies where it really hurts: their bank accounts. In an interview with the Sunday Times, security minister Ben Wallace said the country should use taxes to either incentivize stronger anti-extremist efforts or compensate for "inaction." While Wallace didn't go into detail as to what he'd like, the Times suggested it would be a windfall-based tax that targeted companies' large profits.

Wallace certainly doesn't think very highly of internet companies -- he called them "ruthless profiteers" who put "profit before public safety." They'll sell info to loan sharks and "soft-porn companies," he claimed, but won't give it to the UK's elected government.

The companies in question object to the claims. Facebook's Simon Milner said Wallace was "wrong" that the social network didn't prioritize safety, pointing out "millions of pounds" of investment in people and tech to find and pull terrorist material. YouTube, meanwhile, said it had made "significant progress" thanks to a mix of machine learning, human reviewers and partnerships.

This is only talk at the moment, so it's far from certain that the tech industry will be forced to pay up. And we'd add that Wallace's statements appear to be based more on preconceptions of what the companies are like (he describes them as sitting "on beanbags in T-shirts") than specific complaints. It's easy to claim that Facebook or Google isn't doing enough when you don't have to provide details or consider technical, privacy and free speech issues. This doesn't mean that they are doing everything they can, but the government may have to back up any punitive tax measures with concrete evidence of inaction.

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