UK Cuts Tech Firms Slack on Online Content Fraud

The U.K.’s new anti-fraud strategy reportedly places less burden on tech companies.

As the Financial Times reported Monday (May 1), the British government is set to unveil the strategy as early as Wednesday (May 3), with the goal of coordinating lawmakers, police and private companies.

However, the report — citing sources with knowledge of the matter — said ministers are expected to announce a change to the strategy, which had initially called for tech companies to compensate online scam victims. 

Now, the measure will require those companies to pledge to be more proactive in stopping fraud rather than making them pay compensation.

The U.K.’s proposed online safety bill will require a “duty of care” from large platforms to guard users against fraud and other harmful content.

The report says lawmakers had proposed a change to the law that would make tech companies and telecoms reimburse victims of fraudulent content, thus doing away with the “safe harbor” principle that says platforms aren’t liable for material on their sites unless they’re aware of it.

However, the FT said, this led to worries that the change would usher in a wave of lawsuits against tech companies for the content they host and force companies to monitor all content to determine whether it was fraudulent, something a government official said would be “extremely burdensome to do at scale.”

The official added that such a change “would move the UK away from our international competitors and would harm our international tech competitiveness.” 

Instead, tech companies would agree to reduce fraud by redesigning their platforms to make identifying and reporting fraudulent content easier. The report also notes that some tech giants, Meta and Microsoft among them, have agreed to a “revised advertising onboarding process” to ensure that U.K. financial services companies that want to advertise with them have been approved by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Earlier this year, the FCA announced that it had sent out over 1,800 alerts last year to protect consumers from financial scams in 2022, a 14-fold increase from the prior year.

The regulator said the increase was fueled by “significant improvements” to its digital tools to spot problem firms and misleading advertisements.

However, the FCA warned that “more needs to be done by tech companies to protect consumers,” and pointed to the rise of “fin-fluencers” — unauthorized individuals giving investment advice.