EU ‘to threaten’ firms with new laws over fake news and data mining

Brussels may threaten social media companies with regulation unless they move urgently to tackle fake news and Cambridge Analytica-style use of personal data before the European elections in 2019.

The EU security commissioner, Julian King, said “short-term, concrete” plans needed to be in place before the elections, when voters in 27 EU member states will elect MEPs. The Cambridge Analytica affair had “served to highlight how important [the issue] is”, he told the Guardian.

The code would include a pledge for greater transparency, so users would be made aware why their Facebook or Twitter feed was presenting them with certain adverts or stories.

Tech companies are set to welcome the voluntary approach, but raise doubts over some of the proposals. “It is wise they do it this way,” said Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, the director general of Digital Europe, which represents the industry. “If you leave people to take responsibility it is better than to punish them for something they haven’t done.”

But she gave a lukewarm response to some of the commission’s key ideas, such as algorithm transparency, where she warned against an overreaction. “For decades we have had a certain group [of TV viewers] getting targeted ads, at certain times targeted to certain programmes. And this is not illegal, so we need to avoid an overreaction.”

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