Britain to force Big Tech to combat online scams

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Facebook, Google and Twitter logos are seen in this combination photo from Reuters files. REUTERS

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LONDON, March 9 (Reuters) - Britain said on Tuesday it would force Google, Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms to prevent paid-for fraudulent adverts after calls from regulators and consumer groups for a stronger crackdown on scams.

The government said its draft law on preventing online harms would include the requirement for large platforms to improve protection from criminals impersonating celebrities or companies to steal personal data, peddle unsafe financial investments or break into bank accounts.

Communications regulator Ofcom will check if platforms have put in place systems to prevent and remove fake adverts. The watchdog could block services or issue a fine of up to 18 million pounds ($24 million) or 10% of annual turnover, the government said.

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"These changes to the upcoming Online Safety bill will help stop fraudsters conning people out of their hard-earned cash using fake online adverts," Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said in a statement.

Online scams from advertisements on Google (GOOGL.O), Facebook (FB.O), Twitter (TWTR.N) and other social media mushroomed as more people went online during lockdowns to fight COVID-19.

A British record of 754 million pounds was stolen in the first six months of 2021 in banking scams, up by almost a third from 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 limiting adverts for financial products to companies regulated by the FCA, which has called for stronger powers.

"This could make a huge difference to stemming the tide of fake and fraudulent ads on social media and search engines which cause devastating financial and emotional harm to innocent victims," said Anabel Hoult, chief executive of consumer campaign 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-regulation approach, or by creating a new watchdog.

Harmful or misleading adverts, such as those promoting negative body images, and adverts for illegal activities such as weapons sales could face tougher rules and sanctions, it said.

Influencers failing to declare they are being paid to promote products on social media could also be subject to stronger penalties, the government said.

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Reporting by Huw Jones Editing by Mark Potter

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