The UK’s digital minister expressed his grave concerns about Facebook Inc.’s intentions to extend end-to-end encryption across all user communications, escalating the government’s long-running dispute with the company’s messaging services.
According to a report by Bloomberg, Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said he and Home Secretary Priti Patel are in contact with Facebook “at all levels.” In a press conference on Wednesday, he spoke about encryption. “End-to-end encryption cannot be a way of facilitating child abuse, and so on, and we’ve shared those grave concerns,” Dowden added. “We haven’t ruled out any steps to protect against those abuses.”
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, has agreed to extend encryption messages beyond WhatsApp to all its apps by default, including Messenger and Instagram, a move that has been met with criticism from US, UK, and Australian law enforcement officials.
The government of the United Kingdom has previously urged social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter to tackle terror-related posts on their platforms and requested access to encrypted messages. Dowden, on the other hand, stated that any legislative measures to address the problem would not be included in the upcoming Online Safety Bill.
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Following the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, lawmakers are reshaping their approach to tech firms, and although attempting to curb the influence of big tech, lawmakers are also pushing to loosen listing rules in order to build larger British startups.
Dowden expressed the expectation that these changes would entice British entrepreneurs to switch to the US capital markets, which have more flexible equity ownership rules and higher valuations. According to Dowden, the United Kingdom is “looking to see if we can make it easier for tech to list, in particular the creator issue, which has been one of the major challenges”.
Dowden also stated that one of the world’s largest technology deals is still under investigation. Six months after its launch, British officials have yet to comment on Nvidia Corp’s $40 billion purchase of British chip designer Arm Holdings. The Competition and Markets Authority of the United Kingdom announced in January that it would investigate the contract.
“Don’t take the fact that we’ve said nothing on it as being that we are not going to act, or indeed we are going to act,” said Dowden. “It is still very much under consideration.”
Dowden has been covering up British technology entrepreneurs. On Tuesday, he met with Matthew Moulding, the founder of e-commerce company THG Plc, and on Wednesday, he spoke with Poppy Gustafsson, the CEO of cybersecurity firm Darktrace Ltd. He cited the so-called unicorn valuation of Starling Bank and Deliveroo’s decision to list in London as examples of a changing society.
“This goes to the heart of one of the biggest challenges clearly that we face in the U.K.,” Dowden acknowledged. “There is always going to be a problem in the U.K. of scale. We are not a China or a U.S.”
On Thursday, the minister announced 2020 to be a record year for venture capital investment in the United Kingdom, citing government data showing that $15 billion was raised in tech firms, more than France and Germany combined.