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UK PM Theresa May hits out again at tech giants over terrorism

Britain's prime minister hammers home her message to social networks in a speech at Davos, while touting the country's place in the world of the tech.

British Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos.
British Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Fabrice Coffrini/Getty Images

This is one fight the tech giants of the world may never hear the end of.

On Thursday, UK Prime Minister Theresa May told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, she wants to see investors put more pressure on tech companies over extremist content on social networks.

May stressed in her speech that social networks should crack down harder on content relating to terrorism and child abuse and ought to remove it automatically. She acknowledged that progress had been made but that they needed to work to regain people's trust.

"Technology companies still need to do more in stepping up to their responsibilities for dealing with harmful and illegal online activity," she said."Companies simply cannot stand by while their platforms are used to facilitate child abuse, modern slavery or the spreading of terrorist and extremist content."

The British Conservative government under May has taken a zero-tolerance approach to what it sees as problems caused by major tech companies, including fake news, encryption, and content involving child abuse and terrorism. In the aftermath of multiple terrorist attacks on the UK in 2017, May turned on tech companies, blaming them for not doing more to prevent terrorists from using their platforms. Her remarks were reiterated at a UN meeting in September.

A Facebook spokeswoman told CNET in a statement that the company agrees with the prime minister that removing terrorist content is important, and that it removes 99 percent of al-Qaida and ISIS-related content using automated systems. "We do that before anyone in our community has flagged it to us, and in some cases, before it goes live on the site," she said. "We are also working with other technology companies, big and small, to help them do the same."

Twitter proactively removes 95 percent of terrorist accounts using its own technology, and 75 percent before their first tweet, a spokesman for the social network said in a statement. "Terrorism is a societal problem and therefore requires a societal response," he said. "Tech has a role to play, as do government, educators, NGOs, the police and academia."

The British government has something of a love-hate relationship with the world of tech. With one hand it points the finger at technology for many of the country's problems, but with the other it pushes for the UK to become a leader in the technology field while the country negotiates its future outside the EU. The prime minister used her speech Thursday to talk about the country's tech successes, including establishing an Institute of Coding, a new Digital Charter and putting the UK at the forefront of artificial intelligence by building on the success of companies like Google-owned Deepmind.

In her speech, May also touched on the UK's problematic relationship with Uber. In September, the ride-hailing company lost its license to operate in London, and the appeals process is ongoing.

"The answer isn't to shut Uber down but rather to address those concerns, and to establish and enforce the standards and protections that can make this technology work for customers and employees alike," May said. Her words could come as some reassurance to Uber executives as the company approaches its court hearing, which is set for April.

Representatives for Uber and Google didn't respond to requests for comment.

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