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Amber Rudd: Google and Facebook have to realise that they are publishing companies

By Dominic Ponsford

Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said that tech companies like Google and Facebook must recognise that they are now publishers and take responsibility for the content they distribute.

But she does not apparently favour new legislation to bring them into line, instead favouring a self-regulation approach.

And she told the Andrew Marr show on BBC One yesterday that she is inviting the major media technology companies in to the Home Office this week to thrash out a way forward.

Following last week’s terror attack in London, Marr quizzed Rudd about the ease with which extremist content can be accessed online.

He said it took him 30 seconds to find a web page offering guidelines on how to conduct “just terror” operations.

This echoed Friday’s Daily Mail front-page story headlined: “Google, the terrorist’s friend“. It explained how guidelines to mount car-based terror attacks were available on Twitter and Google.

Rudd said: “What these companies have to realise is that they are not publishing companies, they are now technology companies. They are platforms and we need to make sure that stops.

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“We want to do this, we also want other countries to do this. I would much rather have a situation where we get all these companies around the table agreeing to do it.

“We would like to have an industry-wide board set up where they do this themselves.”

The status of companies like Google and Facebook as platforms, rather than publishers, currently gives them protection from many of the legal constraints on news organisations. This includes immunity from prosecution for defamation, breach of copyright, privacy, contempt of court and a range of terrorism-related offences.

Earlier this month the UK trade body for newspaper publishers, the News Media Association, warned that by 2020 more than 70 per cent of all money spent on advertising will go to these two giants.

It suggested that Google and Facebook should pay a licensing fee for the use of publishers’ content and called for action from the Government to tackle the “real social harm” caused by the unregulated spread of fake news on these platforms.

Rudd also said she wants to find a way to give the security services access to encrypted messaging services such as Whatsapp. This is a move which will ring alarm bells for some journalists who fear such powers could be misused by the government to access information about confidential journalistic sources.

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