How will France’s online safety bill protect you from scammers?

Changes could even see Twitter blocked over its approach to pornography rules, says minister

Bill proposes a new anti-fraud filter that warns users when they click on websites identified as dangerous

Better protection from email and text scams, including an anti-fraud filter, has been revealed in new official plans.

Such scams are common in France and often include a link to an official-looking website designed to encourage people to enter personal or bank details that can then be stolen.

Around 60,000 complaints were sent to Thésée, the platform dedicated to online scams, between March and October 2022 alone.

Better online protection was a campaign pledge of President Macron. The government presented a draft bill on the subject to ministers in May.

Read more: There is now a new way of reporting scams and fraud in France

More scams during major events

The anti-fraud filter would show users a warning message when they click on websites identified as dangerous.

The aim is to test it ahead of September’s Rugby World Cup and expand the list of fraudulent sites in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics, as scams often multiply during major international events.

Read more: France plans warning system to prevent fraud

Anti-fraud filter needs people to be tricked first

However, despite being “a great idea”, this is not the best way to end such scams, a cybersecurity expert told The Connexion.

Denis Jacopini said: “With this, before people can be protected, others have to be tricked to allow the website to be flagged up.

“If every time you open your letterbox, one in 10 letters has a toxic powder which will poison you, you will stop trusting the letterbox.

“The government is proposing to warn people that, if they open a yellow envelope, they will be poisoned because other people have been poisoned when opening such envelopes.”

The second issue, he added, is “if the service takes weeks or months to react to flagged websites, it will be useless.”

He believes a better solution would be to implement a filter to detect malicious emails.

More power to block pornographic websites

The bill would also give the Arcom regulator the power to order operators to block pornographic websites that do not prevent minors accessing their content, without going to a judge.

The websites would also be removed from search engines and the owners made to pay a fine of up to 4% of their global turnover.

Pornographic sites are already required by French law to verify users’ ages but most have simply added a button that users can press to declare they are over 18.

Minister for Digital Transition Jean-Noël Barrot even said at a press conference that “Arcom could end up blocking Twitter” if it did not comply with regulations.

The social media giant allows pornographic content and does not verify users’ ages.

The regulator would be charged with publishing the guidelines of the verification system.

Anonymous legal age certificate

An experiment is currently under way into a double anonymat (double anonymity) system, whereby an organisation such as an internet provider supplies a certificate of legal age without knowing what it will be used for, and websites can check the certificate without knowing the identity of the person. This is the system supported by the Cnil civil liberties commission.

Critics have pointed out that it would be possible to bypass age restrictions by using a virtual private network (VPN), which provides the user with an IP address based outside France.

Social media ban for spreading hatred

Another key measure would see users who are convicted of spreading hatred banned from social media.

Judges would be able to order a six-month suspension from a particular account – one year for repeat offenders – if a person is found guilty of cyberbullying, child pornography, Holocaust denial, ‘apology for terrorism’, or sharing violent images.

The bill would also enshrine the EU’s Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act into French law, including a ban on tracking users’ activity across the web for targeted advertising without explicit consent.

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