Australian Online Privacy Bill is making things difficult for all the tech giants. Australia unveiled plans on Monday to make social media companies obtain parental consent for users under the age of 16, with multi-million dollar fines for failing to comply.
Draft legislation to enhance online privacy protections would require companies such as Facebook, anonymous forum Reddit, a smartphone dating app Bumble, and Facebook-owned messenger WhatsApp to take all reasonable steps to determine users’ ages and prioritize children’s interests when collecting data.
If made law, the Online Privacy Bill would put Australia among the most stringent countries in terms of age controls for social media and build on the country’s efforts to rein in the power of Big Tech. The government has already introduced mandatory licensing payments for media outlets and plans to toughen laws against online misinformation and defamation.
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Social media giants will face fines of up to $10m for serious privacy breaches under reforms proposed by the Australian government.
The reforms would also require platforms to verify users’ ages, get parental consent for children and cease disclosing personal information if requested.
They will include criminal penalties for repeated refusals to provide the information requested by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
On Monday, the attorney general, Michaelia Cash, released draft legislation and a consultation paper arguing that more needs to be done to protect children against “harmful tracking, profiling, or targeted marketing” online platforms.
Separately, the Nationals MP Anne Webster has introduced a private member’s bill to parliament to make social media companies liable as publishers if they don’t take down allegedly defamatory material within 48 hours of receiving a notice from the eSafety commissioner.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has foreshadowed the government will pursue further changes requiring platforms to unmask anonymous social media users in a bid to crack down on misinformation.
Webster’s bill would give the communications minister power to “make determinations about the basic expectations of a social media service,” according to its explanatory memorandum.
The eSafety commissioner can then demand social media companies report on meeting expectations or publish their conclusions about contraventions.
The bill would also create a process for public members to complain to the eSafety commissioner about defamatory material on social media platforms.
Suppose the eSafety commissioner agrees it is “reasonably likely” that the material defames the complainant. In that case, they can issue a defamation notice to a service provider, making them liable for the material if they don’t remove it within 48 hours.
Webster has been at the forefront of efforts to hold social media giants liable as publishers after successful defamation proceedings against a conspiracy theorist who used Facebook to call her “a member of a secretive pedophile network.”
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Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention David Coleman said, “Facebook’s own internal research demonstrates the impact social media platforms can have on body image and the mental health of young people.”
Facebook’s director of public policy in Australia and New Zealand, Mia Garlick, said the company was reviewing the proposed law and understood “the importance of ensuring Australia’s privacy laws evolve at a comparable pace to the rate of innovation and new technology we’re experiencing today.”
The new law would raise penalties for any breaches of the code, with fines of either 10% of the company’s domestic annual turnover, three times the financial benefit of the violation, or A$10 million ($7.5 million). The current maximum fine is A$2.1 million.
In a previously commissioned report published on Monday, privacy watchdog the Information Commissioner found that while most social media providers had an age minimum of 13, the limit was enforced by “self-attestation” rather than independent verification.