UK Moves To Give Regulators Power To Fine Internet Companies 5% Of Revenue If They Can't Wave A Magic Wand And Make Bad Content Disappear

from the free-money dept

While in theory the UK is supposed to be leaving the EU soon, it’s still technically a part of it, and now appears to be implementing the AVMSD (Audiovisual Media Services Directive) which was agreed to last year. One section of the agreement talks about “protection of minors” and like pretty much all “think of the children” type regulations, it’s full of moral panics and impossible demands. While the Directive looks like it was designed for professionally broadcast content, apparently the UK has determined that it should apply to all online video, and the UK Parliament “quietly approved” a plan to give its media regulatory body, Ofcom, the power to fine social media companies up to 5% of their revenue if they can’t magically make stuff that “might seriously impair” minors disappear from the internet.

Of course, content that “might seriously impair” minors seems widely open to interpretation — which almost certainly means over-censorship. But, it appears that Ofcom doesn’t think it’s a big deal at all:

“These new rules are an important first step in regulating video-sharing online, and we’ll work closely with the government to implement them,” a spokeswoman told the BBC.

“We also support plans to go further and legislate for a wider set of protections, including a duty of care for online companies towards their users.”

Duty of care is the standard that gets tossed around a lot in these discussions, and it’s basically a standard that guarantees significant and regular censorship, because under a duty of care, making mistakes — which are inevitable — in terms of leaving up content that should be taken down, leads to massive liability. Of course, there is no penalty for the flip side. That is, if you take down content that should have been left up, there are no penalties at all. So, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happens: sites vastly over-censor, taking down lots of content that should be left up, because there is no regulatory punishment for doing so — whereas missing a video that should have been taken down is such a huge risk that most companies won’t bother.

And don’t go blaming the EU for this. Should the UK actually complete the whole Brexit thing, it doesn’t sound like this will change. After all, the UK has been working on its own “harmful content” regulation that would end up doing much the same thing, perhaps on an even wider scale.

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Comments on “UK Moves To Give Regulators Power To Fine Internet Companies 5% Of Revenue If They Can't Wave A Magic Wand And Make Bad Content Disappear”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Let's get started then shall we?

Politics can get rather nasty at times, with politicians throwing out lies and dishonest statements that could negatively impact children, resulting in them making important decisions based upon faulty if not flat out wrong information. As such it seems only fitting that any official political content be immediately and irrevocably removed from any and all online platforms.

Refusal to do so will be considered an admission that politicians care more about themselves than children, and as this is a blatant power-grab under the guise of a ‘think of the children’ political ploy I’m sure that none of the politicians involved would have any objections to setting a good example by going first.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'Have fun with the backlash.'

Well, it would for any company stupid enough to stick around anyway, as I imagine one or two fines of that size would quickly convince a company that it’s simply not worth the risk operating in the UK, resulting in a removal of all asserts from the country and(if they really felt like twisting the knife) a message to all soon-to-be former users that service would no longer be offered thanks to the law.

I suspect that upon a service like Youtube or Facebook telling their UK users that they could no longer risk operating in the country the cries of outrage at the politicians who passed the idiotic law would be quite impressive.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 5% of revenue for the impossible?

At such a high rate it might be cheaper to just blacklist the UK and not service the country anymore. I doubt they make more than 5% of their yearly global revenue in the UK so not much would be lost. Also it heads off other countries trying the same in response

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: 5% of revenue for the impossible?

The entirety or Europe is trying damned hard to kick out US tech companies or get rich trying without realizing they’re also preventing local companies from filling the void with their silly rules.

This new one does sound distinctly British though. If Monty Python was still doing skit comedy in the internet age I have no doubt he would have come up with this before the UK government did.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: 5% of revenue for the impossible?

"That’s just an Internet company tax delivered with a raspberry. No point in wasting money on actually trying to do the impossible, you’ll have to pay up anyway."

True enough, but it could be worse. Assume that this "up to 5%" isn’t the max cap but what the company will be fined every time they fail this impossible regulation.

Essentially that could make hosting any UK platform allowing commentary outright unlawful in practice.

…and here i thought the UK body politic would become slightly less insane with Cameron gone.

PaulT (profile) says:

"Of course, content that "might seriously impair" minors seems widely open to interpretation — which almost certainly means over-censorship."

Huh. A vague set of phrases to test content that can easily be over-applied, leading to ridiculous results? That sounds familiar… Oh yeah:

"The Obscene Publications Act defined obscenity as that which may "tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it". This definition is of course open to wide interpretation."

I’ll bet there some people stupid enough to think that the video nasties were effectively banned by those rules as well.

"And don’t go blaming the EU for this."

Anyone stupid enough not to recognise that this is the Tories doing the crap they did during the Thatcher era will sadly be the kind stupid enough not to understand that they’d do the same and worse outside of the EU.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Anyone stupid enough not to recognise that this is the Tories doing the crap they did during the Thatcher era will sadly be the kind stupid enough not to understand that they’d do the same and worse outside of the EU."

The UK under-the-table political shenanigans are some of the most toxic in the G20. The US doesn’t come close, or even the EU for that matter.

The thatcher era wasn’t the start of that either. I doubt there has been a single british prime minister not actively hostile to the concept of democracy since well before the victorian age.

Every british PM seems to have that gruff voice of John Bull in the back of their heads, eager to discard the voices of the unwashed lower class (i.e. everyone not holding "sound" opinions) as irrelevant.

Anonymous Coward says:

Facebook should have a requirement that only users who are over 18 can use it or view it.
How they could do this for uk users is hard to say,
not everyone has a credit card .
saying all content must be ok for minors to view is not reasonable,it will involve massive censorship,
i don,t think many videos on youtube are suitable for minors ,
eg videos of mortal combat, 18 rated games ,
violent scenes in games like outlast .
some lgbt videos on youtube might not be suitable for minors .this is like
saying all drama,s on uk tv after 9pm, must be suitable for minors ,
it s a ridiculous requirement ,
over 18 films and drama,s are shown on uk tv after 9pm.
IS there not some requirement on parents to control what young
children see on the internet .
And the uk is bringing a law that all uk users will have to register
to view adult content on the web.
if you wish to view adult websites you,ll have to get a user name or a
they are still working on the details of how the system works .
And when it go,s into force.

David says:

Re: Re:

Facebook should have a requirement that only users who are over 18 can use it or view it.

Interesting requirement. That would lead to something like Pokemon parties and might encourage larger family units. "Where eighteen or more assemble in Zuckerberg’s name, the Facebook shall open to them and they shall hear the singing of the advertisers."

Anonymous Coward says:

Hey I’d like to call on internet companies to wave their magic wand and make the UK disappear.

Sincer appologizes to the majority of the UK population (or at least those who aren’t bonedead stupid, which I assume is most of them). However they can rest easy knowning that this is for the children. So they don’t have to be exposted to this horrific merger of stupidity and censorship.

Or I guess you should just admit tha the world has bad things in it and going way out of ones way to hide the existance of the bad things from children would just hinder them with an unrealistic point of view, which they may be able to over come. But I mean that’d be just crazy talk.
I mean actual talking to you children about why something’s bad, and what you can do to deal with living in a non perfect world would require a semi mature adult to act as the parent. And who has the time or resources to do that.

David says:

Re: Re:

Hey I’d like to call on internet companies to wave their magic wand and make the UK disappear.

Come on, be realistic. Johnson is not even a month in office. Rome wasn’t ransacked in a day. If it’s any consolation to you: Internet companies already played quite a role in getting the Brexit on the way and in washing country-destroying populists into the driver seat of several governments.

Anonymous Coward says:

the UK just does as it’s told by the USA, usually and there isn’t any sense used there! the whole aim of all these ridiculous laws is to stop the public from finding out what lying, cheating fuckers those in ‘privileged positions’ are and what they are up to, while making everything available from us ordinary folks who have nothing to hide in the first place! the UK used to be staunch in it’s belief in freedom, freedom of speech and privacy. that’s gone right out the window, but all due to the Conservative governments there over the last 12+ years

Anonymous Coward says:

Companys can just move all assets outside the uk,
they could move servers to luxembourg or another eu country ,
britain will be no longer a eu member state in 12 months .
i cannot imagine the uk blocking because some
12 year old read a post that was rude or insulting or maybe discuss,s
a subject like protestors being shot by the police in hong kong .
Many tech companys are based in the republic of ireland which has is not
under the jurisdiction of uk law .

Rekrul says:

What I find strange is that all the internet companies just sit back and let countries pass these regulations while the most they do is try to drum up support for opposition to them. If they truly wanted to stop them, block the countries involved from accessing their service and send them a note;

"Dear UK/EU/Whatever, Since you don’t like the way we do business, we have blocked your entire country from accessing our service."

Whenever someone from those areas tries to access their account, they would receive the message; "We’re sorry, but your government has made it impossible for us to continue to offer our service in your country. If you are displeased about this, I suggest you let your elected officials know. Here is their official contact information: XXXXXXXX"

Then watch the shit hit the fan. These proposals wouldn’t survive the week.

Of course internet companies won’t ever do that because they can’t stand the thought of losing subscribers even for a few days.

Anonymous Coward says:

Who measures "impair"ment

So I would read

content that "might seriously impair" minors
to include lots of things… like Video Games that I don’t like, poorly designed web pages and probably anything that try’s to keep your attention like YouTube or streaming services to watch other people play games… cause laziness or somethin’

JdL (profile) says:

Which is it?

We have lawmakers and regulators screaming that internet companies are silencing some political viewpoints and must stop doing that, and a bunch of other lawmakers and regulators screaming that internet companies must do more to suppress "hate speech". Talk about damned if you do and damned if you don’t! How about we scream back at those lawmakers & regulators to STFU and let the market sort it out?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Which is it?

"Because the market is not some kind of gestalt entity with a will and a mind of its own. What you’re suggesting is basically populism, ceding the internet to the lowest common denominator."

Well…yes and no.

The good thing about letting the market rule in this type of issue is that it means 8chan adherents can set up their 8chan where anything goes. The racists and bigots can assemble in stormfront.

And people with less extremist ideals can go post in places like Techdirt where any of the aforementioned extremists can find his/her objectionable comments quickly flagged and hidden.

The internet is good in that everyone CAN build their own place where their own rules apply. For now at least.

When governments start mandating which rules everyone must have in place in addition to their own…that’s when things can turn very ugly, very fast.

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