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Australia to launch parliamentary probe into tech giants

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says 'big tech has big questions to answer'

Australia to launch parliamentary probe into tech giants


Australia on Wednesday said it will scrutinize big tech companies as it examines toxic material on social media platforms and the dangers it poses to the well-being of its citizens.

The parliamentary inquiry chaired by lawmaker Lucy Wicks was announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher.

“Big tech has big questions to answer," Morrison said, adding that the probe builds on the legislation Australia announced earlier this week to unmask anonymous online trolls.

“Mums and dads are rightly concerned about whether big tech is doing enough to keep their kids safe online,” the prime minister said. “Big tech created these platforms, they have a responsibility to ensure their users are safe.”

According to Fletcher, the troubling revelations from a Facebook whistleblower have amplified existing concerns in the community. Frances Haugen has accused CEO Mark Zuckerberg of pushing for higher profits while not showing concern about user safety.

“This inquiry will give organizations and individuals an opportunity to air their concerns, and for big tech to account for its own conduct,” he said. "It will be a very important opportunity to examine the practices of these companies — and whether more needs to be done."

David Coleman, assistant minister to the prime minister for mental health and suicide prevention, said in Australia there is a consistent increase in signs of distress and mental ill-health among young people.

"While the reasons for this are varied and complex, we know that social media is part of the problem,” he said. “We know that we can't trust social media companies to act in the best interests of children, so we're going to force them to."

He also referred to the recent leak of Facebook’s own internal research, which demonstrates the impact social media platforms can have on body image and the mental health of young people.

Earlier this year, Australia implemented a new law forcing tech companies to pay local media for news content displayed on their platforms – a move that Google and Facebook initially resisted before striking deals with media groups.

Facebook recently rebranded itself as Meta, and the disclosure of thousands of internal documents has prompted new calls for reining in the power of the world’s largest tech companies.

On Tuesday, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority directed Facebook to sell Giphy, a company that provides social media and messaging platforms with animated images, after finding that the deal could harm social media users and UK advertisers.

*Writing by Islamuddin Sajid

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