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Privacy statement - Terms and conditions

tech companies collaborate to block inappropriate content

9 December 2016

Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and YouTube have announced a plan to create a shared database of ‘unique digital fingerprints’, also known as 'hashes', of image and video content which promotes terrorism. When each of the companies identifies content in breach of its policies and removes it, this information is shared, allowing the other companies to use the hashes to match and remove similar content from their own sites.

In its blog, Facebook described the shared objective of the four companies as being the prevention of the spread of terrorist content online while respecting human rights. No personally identifiable information will be shared in the database.

This raises an interesting point about the extent to which these companies will collaborate with governments and law enforcement agencies, whilst providing services to the general public which inherently support and are entirely based on the right to free speech. Earlier this year the US government met with Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft to discuss how tech firms could work with the government to combat online terrorism. Prior to the meeting, a White House spokesperson noted that many of the participating companies “are run by patriotic Americans” who would want to cooperate with governments on this issue.

Each of the companies has a policy on how it responds to government requests and has, or is working towards, a regular transparency report showing the numbers of requests received and complied with. In the face of greater terrorist threats and pressure from governments worldwide, this transparency will be important to reassure users of the service that their rights to free speech remain protected.

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