UK considers taxing tech’s “ruthless profiteers in t-shirts” over extremist content

Comfortably ruthless.
Comfortably ruthless.
Image: AP Photo/Randi Lynn Beach
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If tech companies got flack for anything in 2017, it was not paying enough taxes and not fighting enough extremism. On Sunday, Britain’s security minister suggested solving one problem with the other.

“If they continue to be less than co-operative, we should look at things like tax as a way of incentivizing them or compensating them for their inaction,” British MP Ben Wallace said in an interview with the Sunday Times (paywall).

Wallace accused tech giants like Google and Facebook of prioritizing profit over public safety, saying they are quick to sell user data to third parties but cite privacy when refusing to share the same data with the government. He said Silicon Valley is making massive sums of money while the UK government is forced to spend millions on surveillance, de-radicalization programs, and other counter-terrorism measures.

“We should stop pretending that because they sit on beanbags in T-shirts they are not ruthless profiteers,” Wallace said. “They will ruthlessly sell our details to loans and soft-porn companies but not give it to our democratically elected government.”

Both Facebook and Google disagreed with Wallace’s assessment. “Mr. Wallace is wrong to say that we put profit before safety, especially in the fight against terrorism,” Facebook’s European policy director told Reuters. “We’ve invested millions of pounds in people and technology to identify and remove terrorist content.” A YouTube spokeswoman said the site has “made significant progress through investing in machine learning technology, recruiting more reviewers, building partnerships with experts and collaboration with other companies.”

Over the past year, tech giants have hired thousands of people (paywall) to review and moderate content, including terrorist or extremist accounts and posts. Both Facebook and Google claim an 83% success rate on quickly removing terrorist or violent extremist content.

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