France plans to regulate “fake news,” tech companies respond to security flaws, U.S. Senate to vote on FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality

Corporate Accountability News Highlights is a regular series by Ranking Digital Rights highlighting key news related to tech companies, freedom of expression, and privacy issues around the world.

France plans to regulate “fake news” during elections

Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron (Image via Kremlin.ru, licensed CC BY 4.0)

In the latest push in Europe to regulate social media content, French President Emmanuel Macron has announced a new bill to regulate the spreading of “fake news” during elections. In an annual speech to the press, Macron said the bill will be submitted to the parliament in upcoming weeks. The bill specifically targets sponsored content, and if adopted it would require social media platforms to “make public the identity of sponsors and of those who control them,” and to impose limits on the amount of money paid to sponsor such content.

Macron added that others measures targeting “fake news” would include the deletion of content, blocking sites for spreading false news or deleting them from the results of search engines, and the closure of accounts of infringing users, following judicial orders. A draft of the bill is yet to be released, and it remains unclear how French authorities will coordinate with technology companies to regulate such content, and what kind of actions will be taken against platforms that do not comply the future rules.

Internet, mobile, and telecommunications companies should be transparent about how they handle government requests for content restrictions and publish transparency reports on such requests that include data on the number of requests received, the number they complied with, the types of subject matter associated with these requests. Most companies evaluated in the 2017 Index lacked transparency about how they handle government requests to restrict content or accounts, and did not disclose sufficient data about the number of requests they received or complied with, or which authorities made these requests.   

Tech companies respond to security flaws

Tech companies have been rolling out security updates after researchers discovered security flaws in computer processors that could allow hackers to steal sensitive data, including passwords and encryption keys. The flaws known as Meltdown and Spectre, affect almost all devices manufactured in the past 20 years.

In response, Apple released patches to defend its computers, phones, and smart TVs. Microsoft also made security patches available to 41 of its 45 Windows editions. In a blog post on the company’s official blog, Microsoft’s Executive Vice President Terry Myerson said that his company started developing mitigations “immediately” after they had first learned of the flaws several months ago. Intel, on the other hand, published a list of FAQs that include steps users can follow to protect their devices from these exploits.

The 2017 Corporate Accountability Index found that “companies communicate less about what they are doing to protect users’ security than they do about what users should do to protect themselves.” Companies disclosed more to users about how to defend themselves against cyber risks than about what steps they take to keep users’ information secure or about what they do to address security vulnerabilities once they are discovered.

U.S. Senate to vote on FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a resolution overturning the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) decision repealing net neutrality protections. The rules preventing internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking, throttling, or offering paid prioritization for certain types of content, were overturned in December by the FCC in a 3-2 vote, sparking widespread criticism from tech companies and internet freedom activists.

If approved at the Senate, the resolution will also need to be approved by the House, and then President Donald Trump. Since the controversial FCC vote, there have been several legislative and legal initiatives challenging the new rules. On the day of the vote, the New York attorney general announced a lawsuit challenging the vote. In addition, several states are considering the adoptions of rules to protect net neutrality at the local level, including California, New York, Washington, and most recently Nebraska.  

A free and open internet depends on the ability for all users to have equal access to content and services, which is not possible if ISPs block or delay certain types of content or apps. Telecommunications companies should commit to not prioritize or block certain types of network traffic. As 2017 Corporate Accountability Index research shows, most of the world’s leading telecommunications companies fall short of making such a public commitment. Of the ten telecommunications companies evaluated in the 2017 Index, Vodafone was the only one to clearly disclose that it does not prioritize, block, or delay certain types of traffic, applications, protocols, or content for reasons beyond assuring quality of service and reliability of the network.

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