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An open letter on the Online Safety Bill

SIR – The inclusion of the draft Online Safety Bill in the Queen’s Speech two weeks ago was a welcomed first step in tackling issues such as racist bullying, self-harm, child abuse and extremism. But, as the reaction over the last fortnight has shown, this Bill – albeit in draft form – falls far short in tackling the myriad of problems that spawn from the absence of appropriate regulation across social media and online sites.

Criticism over the lack of focus on pornography sites and age verification has been rightly thrown at the Government, as has the problem of people falling victim to cloned websites and adverts paid for by fraudsters. But it’s precisely the subject of fraudulent behaviour, particularly on social media, that also seems to have been mysteriously overlooked by Oliver Dowden et al.

Social media is currently an unregulated space, which helps to facilitate significant fraudulent activity, targeting vulnerable users. The introduction of user verification requirements would be an essential step forwards in preventing fraudsters from setting up fake social media accounts to perpetrate criminal activity. While organised criminal groups will always find ways and means of committing social media fraud and scams, by increasing the levels of identification this will substantially reduce the number of opportunistic fraudsters online.

There are currently a number of commercial solutions using private / private and private / public data syndication in existence that could be implemented today that would start to provide some protection to some of the most vulnerable in our society.

The figures say it all – one in 15 people is a victim of fraud each year in the UK, with the internet believed to play a role in more than half. Computer misuse offences were also up last year by 36% to 1.7 million – mostly driven by hacking of social media and email.

Social media giants, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, need to do more to protect their users through user verification requirements, to prevent social media-enabled fraud and scams from occurring – and that has to start with the Online Safety Bill.

It's essential that the issue of social media fraud is included in the Bill and that the Government goes a step further by creating a voluntary fraud charter for social media companies, and encouraging the voluntary adoption of verified IDs. The solutions are available today, they just need to be used for all our sakes.

Richard Wood

Chief Executive Officer

Synectics Solutions, Stoke-on-Trent

David Clarke

Chairman 

Fraud Advisory Panel, London

 

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