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Canada Joins the World in a Social Media Crackdown

WT24 Desk

Unlike the last American presidential election, there was no obvious cybermeddling when Canadians voted in 2015 (nor, for that matter, are there signs of it in Alberta, where I’m writing this week’s newsletter as residents get ready to vote on Tuesday), The NY Times reports.

This week, however, Canada’s digital security and spy agency reiterated its warning that the country won’t be immune from foreign online interference in the federal election this October.Google’s Canadian engineering headquarters in Kitchener, Ontario.

Canada’s federal government has been on to this for some time. It recently passed a law regulating foreign election interference through the social media giants Facebook, YouTube (which is owned by Google) and Twitter.

But when Karina Gould, the minister for democratic institutions, released the Communications Security Establishment’s report this week, she said she was frustrated by an apparent lack of willingness by those companies to take the issue seriously.

“I’m not feeling great about where we are right now,” Ms. Gould said.

For a government that has otherwise courted those companies to set up engineering centers, particularly around A.I., it was an extraordinary rebuke. And Ms. Gould doubled down. Given that lack of cooperation, Ms. Gould said that the government is scouring its existing laws to see what it can use to force compliance, and that it is looking around the world for examples of additional laws and regulations to introduce.

Here’s a quick guide as to how other governments are regulating social media or steps they are proposing:

• With a sweeping data privacy bill that went into effect almost a year ago, the European Union is widely seen as the world’s leader in regulating social media. It’s also encouraging other countries to match its measures, recently signing a data agreement with Japan. Adam Satariano wrote this definitive overview of how the regulations work.

Using the law, regulators in France fined Google 50 million euros this year, in part for not making it clear how it uses people’s data to sell advertising.

• After the horrific shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, the Australian government rushed through a bill that would jail executives of social media and impose staggering fines if they fail to quickly remove “abhorrent violent material.” But my colleague Damien Cave, who also writes the Australia Letter, reported that Australia’s haste, with little in the way of consultations about the law, may leave it vulnerable to legal challenges.

In light of Australia’s actions, Damien also wrote a superb global overview on dealing with tech monoliths.

• On the same day that Ms. Gould spoke in Canada, a parliamentary committee in Britain released proposals for reining in social media companies, something that embattled Prime Minister Theresa May has said is a key priority.

• Singapore unveiled draft legislation this month to stop the spread of false information. Critics fear it may be used to stifle opponents of the government.

• In India, the government has proposed giving itself sweeping powers to remove internet content. Vindu Goel, one of my colleagues based there, found that many people are drawing comparisons with China’s internet censorship.

• Last year Germany started a crackdown on digital hate speech that was informed by its history, and that goes beyond even the European Union’s strict measures. It further tightened restrictions on data gathering by Facebook in February.

• And after long being a laggard on internet privacy and regulation, the United States is now taking interest.

Last month Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said that it was time to regulate his company.

And make sure you read this provocative column, published in Opinion this week by the longtime tech writer and, more recently, Times columnist Kara Swisher.

“Let me be clear — I love technology, including my deeply felt relationship with that iPhone that spans decades now,” she wrote. “But it has never been more urgent to put up some guardrails. While I do not consider the behemoth tech companies monsters, they can and do act monstrously.”

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