The Department of Home Affairs has accused Facebook parent Meta of being “the most reluctant” of the big tech firms to work with the federal government on safety measures, claiming Facebook’s parent company has shown a “degree of seeming indifference”.
In a submission to the House Select Committee Inquiry into Social Media and Online Safety, Home Affairs criticised Meta for not doing enough to protect its users and for not adequately engaging with the government on these issues.
In its own submission, Meta said it has “responded constructively” to Australian government inquiries and is “highly responsive” to local regulators.
Home Affairs claimed that Meta is the least helpful of all the big tech firms in dealing with government.
“While not alone amongst the big tech companies, Meta is frequently the most reluctant to work with government to promote a safe online environment, adopt a safety by design approach and take adequate proactive measures to prevent online harms,” the Home Affairs submission said.
Meta was at loggerheads with the federal government this time last year too, in regards to the introduction of a news media bargaining code to force Facebook and Google to pay media companies for the use of their content.
This led Facebook to briefly ban all news for Australian users.
Meta is planning to encrypt users’ messages on Facebook and Instagram, but has delayed the plan until 2023.
The Home Affairs submission claimed that this move will “provide predators with the ability to evade detection as they connect with multiple vulnerable children anywhere in the world and develop exploitative grooming relationships”.
“The increasing normalisation of these technologies on digital platforms, including social media, is bringing dark web functionality to the mainstream,” it said.
“The Department has ongoing concerns that digital platforms are prioritising privacy to the detriment of public safety.”
The department also claimed that Meta isn’t taking this issue seriously.
“The Department’s engagement with Meta and other companies with ‘privacy first’ policies reveal a degree of seeming indifference to public safety imperatives, including in relation to children,” Home Affairs said.
In its submission, Meta said that it has “supported and encouraged regulation in Australia”.
“Meta is highly responsive to Australian regulators and regularly restricts access to content on our services to respect Australian law,” it said.
“Meta has responded constructively to all these inquiries, and we have supported many of the new laws that have resulted from them.”
The Australian government has been cracking down on encrypted communications since it passed the Assistance and Access Act in late 2018, which gives authorities the power to compel tech firms to provide access to encrypted data.
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