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MPs call for social media tax to cover costs of data misuse

MPs have called on social media companies such as Facebook to be taxed to cover the costs of investigating incidences of data misuse, a leaked report has revealed.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee has been investigating the phenomenon of fake news spread through social media following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the private company harvested data from millions of Facebook users in an attempt to sway the US election in favour of Donald Trump.

It says a potential tax should be used to fund the Information Commissioner's Office, the UK's data protection regulator, to oversee potential breaches by social media giants in a similar way to how the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulates the financial services industry.

Other recommendations laid out in the report include:

  • Social media giants should be regulated in the same way as television and radio broadcaster
  • The forming of a new category of tech company that is neither platform nor publisher to establish liability when social media sites publish harmful content on their websites
  • Auditing of social media sites by an independent body such as the Competition and Markets Authority

The report was due to be published next week but a leaked version was published on the blog of Dominic Cummings, the campaign director of Vote Leave, which recently was found to have overspent during the referendum.

The leaked report says the UK is faced with a data "crisis" and highlights the "relentless targeting of hyper-partisan views". "Our democracy is at risk, and now is the time to act," MPs will say.

Read more: Social media giants snub talks to tackle 'Wild West' internet

The committee singled out US media giant Facebook out for particular criticism, accusing it of failing to comply satisfactorily with its inquiry.

"Time and again, during the course of our inquiry, was the failure on occasions of Facebook and other tech companies, to provide us with the information that we sought," it said.

"Facebook has hampered our efforts to get information about their company throughout this inquiry. It is as if it thinks that the problem will go away if it does not share information about the problem, and reacts only when it is pressed."

Facebook has been contacted for comment.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has been a damaging one for Facebook. On Thursday Facebook opened in US markets at a loss of almost 20 per cent, wiping roughly $123bn (£93.8bn) off its market valuation.

The company experienced zero growth in user numbers across North America, and lost users in Europe by about 1m.

Read more: Facebook's share price plunges, losing over $120bn off its market value

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