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UK forces Big Tech to fight online fraud

FILE PHOTO: A combination photo of Facebook, Google, and Twitter logo files
FILE PHOTO: Facebook, Google and Twitter logos can be seen in this combination photo from Reuters files. REUTERS/File Photo

March 8, 2022

By Huw Jones

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain said on Tuesday it would force Google, Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms to prevent paid fraudulent advertising after regulators and consumer groups called for stronger crackdowns on fraud.

The government said its draft law to prevent online harm would require major platforms to step up protections against criminals impersonating celebrities or businesses to steal personal information, sell insecure financial assets or break into bank accounts.

Communications regulator Ofcom will look into whether platforms have systems in place to prevent and remove fake ads. The watchdog could block services or face a fine of up to £18million ($24million) or 10% of annual turnover, the government has said.

“These changes to the upcoming online safety bill will help prevent scammers from tricking people of their hard-earned money with fake online advertising,” Culture Minister Nadine Dorries said in a statement.

Online fraud through advertising on Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media has skyrocketed as more people went online during the lockdown to fight COVID-19.

A UK record £754 million was stolen in bank fraud in the first six months of 2021, almost a third more than the same period in 2020, according to data from UK Finance, a banking industry body.

In response to pressure from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), some online services are restricting the promotion of financial products to companies regulated by the FCA, which is calling for greater powers.

“This could make a world of difference in stemming the tide of fake and fraudulent ads on social media and search engines wreaking havoc on innocent victims, both financially and emotionally,” said Anabel Hoult, executive director of consumer campaigns group which?

The government said it was also launching a public consultation on tightening rules for the online advertising industry, either by strengthening the current self-regulatory approach or creating a new monitoring system.

Harmful or misleading ads, such as those promoting negative body images, and those promoting illegal activities, such as arms sales, could be subject to stricter rules and sanctions, it said.

Influencers who don’t indicate they’re being paid to promote products on social media could also be penalized more heavily, the government said.

($1 = 0.7629 pounds)

(Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Mark Potter)

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Caroline Bleakley

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