Facebook is putting secrecy before accountability, NSPCC boss says

23 June 2019, 23:19 | Updated: 24 June 2019, 09:49

The boss of a children's charity has accused tech giant Facebook of placing privacy and secrecy ahead of accountability.

Chief executive of the NSPCC, Peter Wanless, who has campaigned for social media regulation for the last two years said that end-to-end encryption on Facebook messenger is a risk to keeping children safe online.

It comes as the social media company pledged to begin a "new chapter" in its history, as it revealed it will become more focused on privacy at its developer conference in April.

The messenger service is taking the lead in Facebook's new privacy-focused approach, and has been given end-to-end encryption for the first time ever, meaning messages sent on the platform can't be accessed by anyone other than the sender and the receiver.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp also encrypts messages in the same way.

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Mr Wanless said: "It places privacy and secrecy ahead of accountability and transparency.

"It's really disappointing that reaction to the NSPCC's call for a safer internet is to make it more secret and more dangerous.

"What I would say to Mark Zuckerberg is: you have a duty of care and a responsibility to the people who are using your services, very many of whom are children and young people."

Mr Wanless also backed calls to make named directors of tech companies, including Mr Zuckerberg, legally responsible for what happens on their sites, so they can be prosecuted for breaches of child safety.

He added: "These companies make vast sums of money every year and the penalties need to be proportionate. Named directors need to be liable for their actions and inactions.

"In other industries like financial services this is now accepted practice in terms of expecting and enforcing responsible corporate behaviour."

Facebook has yet to respond to Mr Wanless's comments.

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In April, the UK government published a white paper on online harms, which threatens big tech companies with big fines and criminal liability of their bosses.

The paper, which was jointly published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office, puts forward new rules to be introduced that would mean companies take responsibility for their users and safety, as well as the content that appears on their platforms.

Mr Wanless said the proposals would make the UK a "world pioneer" in protecting children online.