British PM May targets Big Tech, teases cryptocurrency crackdown in Davos

By World Economic ForumFOXBusiness

British Prime Minister Theresa May took aim at tech companies and cryptocurrencies at the World Economic Forum on Thursday.

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May, during remarks before the business elite and politicians gathered in Davos, Switzerland, said companies can -- and should -- do more to stop terror content from spreading online.

“Companies simply cannot stand by while their platforms are used to facilitate child abuse, modern slavery or the spreading of terrorist and extremist content,” she said. “We've made some progress...But we need to go further, so that ultimately this content is removed automatically.”

The prime minister said tech companies employ some of the “best brains in the world” and should be able to stop content before it’s posted. In a statement to FOX Business, a Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) spokesperson said the company agrees with May. “Ninety-nine percent of the ISIS- and Al Qaeda-related content we remove is found by 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."

May also suggested a major policy shift that could be a big liability for social media sites like Facebook, Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) and Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL)-owned YouTube. May said websites should be held accountable for their content, proposing sites like Facebook switch from being considered “passive hosts” to “publishers” of users’ content.

May also attacked small startups, calling out the encrypted messaging application Telegram. May said these smaller platforms have become a “home for terrorists” and pedophiles.

Both Google and Facebook have released statements of support for May's declaration that they have a responsibility to help tech startups combat these threats.

“As the prime minister said, it's also important that this is an effort that includes big and small companies, so we're providing training and technology through the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism to ensure all platforms can join the endeavor,” Google's VP of Public Policy, Nicklas Lundblad, said in a statement.

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The British leader also expressed skepticism of the role cryptocurrencies like bitcoin play in facilitating and funding terrorism and crime -- teasing a crackdown on the currency in an interview, saying these currencies should be “looked at very closely.”

But Blockchain CEO Peter Smith is pushing back on May’s claim, saying in a statement to FOX Business, “There is almost no evidence to support the claim that virtual currencies are particularly well-suited to facilitate illicit activity…when the UK Treasury looked into the real data on money laundering threats in 2015, it found that of all payment mechanisms used in the nation, virtual currencies presented the lowest threat and concluded that ‘digital currencies are currently not a method by which terrorists raise or move money out of the UK.’”

Shapeshift CEO Erik Voorhees said, “Centrally planned and controlled government fiat cash remains the preferred choice of criminals 99.999% of the time, and for everything else, there's Mastercard.”

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