EU strikes historic deal to tame the internet’s ‘Wild West’

Brussels: The European Union finalized new legislation on Saturday to force Big Tech to remove harmful content, the bloc’s latest move aimed at curbing global online giants.

The Digital Services Act (DSA) – the second part of a sweeping plan to regulate tech companies – aims to ensure tougher consequences for platforms and websites that host a long list of prohibited content ranging from speech to hate misinformation and child sexual abuse images.

EU officials and parliamentarians finally reached an agreement during talks in Brussels early on Saturday on the legislation, which has been in the works since 2020. “Yes we have a deal!” the EU market commissioner tweeted. Thierry Breton interior.

The DSA, half of an overhaul of the 27-nation bloc’s digital rulebook, is helping to cement Europe’s reputation as a global leader in efforts to rein in the power of social media companies and other digital platforms.

The Dark Side of the Net

Tech giants have been repeatedly called out for failing to monitor their platforms – a New Zealand terror attack livestreamed on Facebook in 2019 sparked global outrage, and the chaotic insurgency in the US last year was promoted online.
The dark side of the internet also includes e-commerce platforms filled with counterfeit or faulty products.

“Today’s agreement on DSA is historic,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen tweeted. “Our new rules will protect users online, guarantee freedom of expression and opportunities for businesses. What is illegal offline will be illegal online in the EU.”

The provisional EU agreement reached on Saturday remains subject to the formal approval of the 27 member states and the European Parliament.

“With the DSA, the days of big online platforms behaving as if they were ‘too big to care’ are coming to an end,” said EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton.

European Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager added that “with today’s agreement, we are ensuring that platforms are held accountable for the risks their services may pose to society and consumers. citizens”.

The law is the EU’s third major law targeting the tech industry, a notable contrast to the United States, where lobbyists representing Silicon Valley interests have largely been successful in keeping federal lawmakers at bay.

While the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission have filed major antitrust suits against Google and Facebook, Congress remains politically divided on efforts to tackle competition, online privacy, misinformation and more.

Google said it looked forward to “working with policymakers to get the remaining technical details to make sure the law works for everyone.”

Main characteristics

The Digital Services Act prohibits advertisements aimed at minors, as well as advertisements based on users’ gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
It also prohibits deceptive techniques companies use to trick people into doing things they didn’t intend to do, like signing up for services that are easy to join but hard to decline. .
Until now, regulators haven’t had access to the inner workings of Google, Facebook and other popular services. But under the new law, companies will have to be more transparent and provide information to regulators and independent researchers about content moderation efforts.
To enforce the new rules, the EU Executive Commission would need to hire more than 200 new staff. To pay for this, tech companies will be charged a “monitoring fee.”
New EU rules are expected to make tech companies more accountable for content created by users and amplified by their platforms’ algorithms.
The largest online platforms and search engines, defined as having more than 45 million users, will come under closer scrutiny.
Experts said the new rules are likely to trigger copycat regulatory efforts from governments in other countries, while tech companies will also come under pressure to roll out the rules beyond EU borders.

Breton said they would have plenty of sticks to back up their laws, including “effective and deterrent” fines of up to 6% of a company’s annual global revenue, which for big tech companies would be billions of dollars. Repeat offenders could be banned from the EU, he said.

The agreement in principle has been reached between the European Parliament and the member states of the bloc. It still needs to be officially endorsed by these institutions, which is expected after the summer but should not pose a political problem. The rules will then not start to apply until 15 months after this approval, or on January 1, 2024, whichever is later.

“The DSA is nothing less than a paradigm shift in technology regulation. It is the first major attempt to establish rules and standards for algorithmic systems in digital media markets,” said Ben Scott, a former technology policy adviser to Hillary Clinton who is now executive director of advocacy group Reset.

The need to regulate Big Tech more effectively became clearer after the 2016 US presidential election, when Russia used social media platforms to try to influence voters. Tech companies like Facebook and Twitter have promised to crack down on misinformation, but the problems have only gotten worse. During the pandemic, health misinformation has flourished and once again companies have been slow to act, cracking down after years of letting anti-vaccine lies thrive on their platforms.

Under EU law, governments could ask companies to remove a wide range of content that would be considered illegal, including material promoting terrorism, child sexual abuse, hate speech and commercial scams. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter should provide users with tools to report such content in an “easy and efficient” way so that it can be quickly removed. Online marketplaces like Amazon should do the same for questionable products, such as counterfeit sneakers or dangerous toys.

These systems will be standardized to work the same on any online platform.

Twitter said it would review the rules “in detail” and supported “smart, forward-thinking regulation that balances the need to address online harm with protecting the open internet.”

TikTok said it is awaiting full details of the law, but “we support its goal of harmonizing the approach to online content issues and welcome the DSA’s emphasis on transparency as a way to show accountability.” “.

Google said it looked forward to “working with policymakers to get the remaining technical details to make sure the law works for everyone.” Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.