The European Union is proposing massive fines for online providers that aren’t fast enough in removing terrorist content from their services, raising pressure on big tech firms like Facebook and Google that have backed voluntary approaches.
The bloc’s executive arm Wednesday proposed new legislation that would create a legal obligation for any online service to remove terrorist content within an hour of being notified of its presence, and to install automated systems to prevent removed content from popping up again.
In March, the EU issued new guidelines ordering faster content removal with the explicit threat of introducing legislation if actions weren’t taken fast enough.
“Systematic failures” to remove content within one hour would expose companies to fines rising to a maximum of 4% of their world-wide revenue for the prior year, according to the proposal. For Alphabet that would be a maximum of $4.43 billion and for Facebook it would be $1.63 billion.
“One hour is the decisive time window, when the greatest damage can take place,” said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during a speech Wednesday in the European Parliament.
The proposal requires approval from the EU’s parliament and member states to become law.
The imposition of obligations and heavy fines is a starkly new approach for the EU, which is under pressure from member states to act. Until now, the EU has asked for voluntary cooperation from tech companies to speed up their removal of terrorist content from their services.
Tech firms said Wednesday that they support the EU’s goal of rapidly removing all terrorist content from their services. Google and Facebook both said they have invested heavily in using artificial intelligence tools to flag potential terrorist content, and at times to remove it automatically—particularly in the case of content that had been previously removed.
Google says its automated tools flag violent extremist YouTube videos so quickly that over half of those it removed in the first quarter had been seen fewer than 10 times. Facebook last fall said that 99% of the material it removes from Islamic State and al Qaeda is blocked before it is seen by any users.
The EU said in January that big tech companies that were part of its voluntary code of conduct companies had removed 70% of the content notified to them by European authorities within 24 hours, up from just 28% in mid 2016.
But political pressure has been rising from EU member states, such as the U.K., France and Italy, to move faster—and to make sure smaller tech platforms are obliged to comply as well.
EU officials also want to get ahead of plans in some member countries to implement their own rules holding tech firms responsible. Already, Germany requires social-media companies like Facebook and Twitter to delete illegal content—ranging from libel to terrorist content—or face fines of up to €50 million.
Separately, the EU’s executive arm made another legislative proposal Wednesday to better safeguard its elections from foreign interference and online manipulation. The new rules would make political parties and organizations liable for fines of up to 5% of their annual budget if they are found in violation of EU privacy laws in an effort to influence the outcome of EU elections.
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