Labor floats jail time as penalty for social media giants that breach Aussie law

The Shadow Minister for Technology also wants to see the appointment of someone she could consider her in-government counterpart.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Shadow Minister for Innovation, Technology and the Future of Work, Clare O'Neil, wants to see harsher penalties dealt out to social media companies operating in Australia that fail to comply with local requirements.

O'Neil pointed to the recent $5 billion fine Facebook was slapped with in the United States and said that such a fine for a company worth $500 billion was not enough as a remedy.

"I think we need to be looking at the quantum of criminal breaches that's attached there, but also whether, you know, some people are suggesting jail time for people who are at the most egregious end of this, and I think we need to be thinking about that," she said.

Must read: Facebook data privacy scandal: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

While the Shadow Minister conceded there was a fair departure from a small fine to jail time, and that there could be a happy-medium, she said Australia is grappling with a new set of companies and a new set of issues.

What would help, she highlighted, would be a technology counterpart from the current government for her to actually be a shadow minister of.

"They don't have a technology spokesperson, believe it or not, and that is something that we do need to change. As I say, we've got technology absolutely racing away from the Parliament in every direction I turn," she said.

"The Digital Platforms Inquiry showed us there are some very distinctive features about the tech economy that mean that it is going to need a new model of regulation.

"We're trying to find our way like every other kind of politician and policy maker around the world."

The Digital Platforms Inquiry: Final Report [PDF], handed down in July by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), made a total of 23 recommendations on how to approach the new paradigm where everything is digital and the lives of individuals are played out on social media.

Pointing to the efforts made by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, which resulted in Facebook earlier this week announcing it will implement various policy changes that aim to prevent the spread of terrorist and extremist content, O'Neil said that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison needed to do more to ignite conversations about the way social media is used day-to day. 

See also: Christchurch Call: USA missing from 26 member pledge to eliminate violent online content

"We're tending to focus on these kind of fringe, very criminal aspects, but my kids are growing up in a world where they're going to be creating a digital footprint from just about the day they're born, they're going to be using social media from a young age, and I'd really like to see us have a better conversation about how we manage the day-to-day of this new world that we're living in," she said.

One such conversation is that many Australians are using Facebook as a news source, even if the information is incorrect.

"We do need to have a better conversation in the Parliament about what the responsibilities are of those platforms who are giving us those messages," O'Neil said.

"The impact on democracy here can't be understated. I just read recently that there's evidence that there are, you know, nefarious parties who are spreading fake news about 5G in Australia, just trying to foment discontent in the community. It happens in the anti-vaccination movement, you know we've got to get better at this."

She did note however, that she was pleased with some of the work Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has done around the "pointy end of social media platforms" and their responsibility to block certain content.  

See also: Why technology alone won't save us from fake news (TechRepublic)

While O'Neil said Facebook has progressed from palming the issue off to a stance that sees them do the "little bit" they do, she said any attempts that have been made to try and fix this problem by working with social media platforms has resulted in "a lot of excuses and a lot of reasons why things can't work".

ACCC chair Rod Sims said last month that everyone should be "very" concerned that the existing regulatory frameworks for the collection and use of data have not held up well to the challenges of digitalisation; nor have they "appropriately responded to the incentives created by the supply of targeted advertising that relies on the monetisation of consumer data and attention".

"Citizens will, and should, demand that governments stay ahead of these issues," he said.

"We remain convinced that our recommendations have got it right."

One of the recommendations made by the ACCC in July was to end the monopoly Google has in the search engine market down under, asking the tech giant to offer consumers a choice of which platform they use to search, just like it's required to in Europe.

While Google initially avoided responding to the request, focusing instead on the publishing industry, the company on Tuesday said it was of "particular concern".

"The recommendation to directly intervene in the Android operating system does not take into account Australian market conditions and competition laws, and provides no justification for focusing on Android when Apple's iOS is the most-used mobile operating system in Australia (as noted in the Final Report) and Microsoft's Windows remains the most-used PC-based operating system," Google said in a blog post.


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