Facebook, Google and other tech firms must verify identities under proposed UK law

It's part of a new 'Online Safety Bill' aimed at protecting users from harmful content.


The UK government is introducing a bill that will require Facebook, Google and other tech platforms to verify the identities of users. The measure is part of the government's Online Safety Bill announced last year and is ostensibly designed to help users block anonymous trolls online.

“Tech firms have a responsibility to stop anonymous trolls polluting their platforms,” said UK digital Minister Nadine Dorries in a statement. “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.”

Tech firms would need to decide how to carry out the checks when users create social media accounts. Some options proposed by the government include facial recognition via profile pictures, two-factor authentication and government-issued ID. The UK's media regulator Ofcom would be in charge of laying out the rules.

Tech firms have a responsibility to stop anonymous trolls polluting their platforms.

The government has also proposed measures that would force companies to filter out "legal but harmful" material. That would allow parents, for instance, to apply settings stopping their kids from receiving search results about certain topics, or putting "sensitivity screens" over them.

Tech firms in violation could face fines of up to 10 percent of their global annual revenues, which could be in the billions with companies like Google and Facebook. The government could also block services from being accessed in the UK under the proposed rules, which would need to be approved by parliament to become law.

“We are reviewing the details of the new proposed duties,” a Twitter spokesperson told CNBC. “Our focus remains on a safe internet for all — whether or not someone is able to or chooses to verify themselves.” It add that it sees anonymity as “a vital tool for speaking out in oppressive regimes."

The UK government said it would introduce online safety rules back in 2018, and the idea has gained impetus following recent racial abuse of Black England soccer players by anonymous trolls. On top of that, a petition in favor of the idea has gained nearly 700,000 signatures. However, critics of identity verification have said that anonymity can help protect LGBTQ+ and other oppressed minorities, whistleblowers and critics of oppressive regimes.

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