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Tech giants will have to be regulated in future - EU's Timmermans

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FILE PHOTO: Frans Timmermans, the newly elected Party of European Socialists President, speaks during the Party of European Socialists annual meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes/File Photo
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BERLIN (Reuters) - The European Union and authorities around the world will have to regulate big technology and social media companies at some stage to protect citizens, the deputy head of the European Commission said on Monday.

First Vice President Frans Timmermans said introducing regulations would work better if online platforms, such as Google and Facebook, worked with authorities.

Big tech has been criticised by politicians in the United States and Europe over issues ranging from Facebook's losing track of users' data to how Google ranks search results.

"At some point, we will have to regulate," Timmermans told the World Policy Forum in Berlin. "The first task of any public authority is to protect its citizens - and if we see you (tech giants) as a threat to our citizens, we will regulate and if you don't work with us, we will probably regulate badly."

Last month, the EU accused Alphabet's Google, Facebook and Twitter of falling short of promises to combat fake news before the European Parliament elections in May, after they signed a voluntary code of conduct to stave off regulation.

Facebook said on Monday it would increase efforts to fight misinformation before the vote and would partner with German news agency DPA to boost fact checking.

Friday's massacre in New Zealand has put social media giants in the spotlight. The assault in Christchurch was live-streamed by an attacker through his Facebook profile for 17 minutes, according to a copy seen by Reuters. Facebook said it removed the stream after being alerted by police.

Timmermans said pressure for regulation would come from beyond Europe. "I think globally there will be a call to regulate," he said.

(Reporting by Paul Carrel; Editing by Edmund Blair)