The European Union adopts a regulation for a more secure digital space

Parliament and the European Council have agreed on the digital services legislation proposed by the Commission.

The European Union (EU) does not have its own tech giants, but it intends to impose rules on other countries’ rules, such as Gafam. On the night between 22 and 23 April, after hours of debate, it passed its Digital Services Act (DSA). It will ensure that what is illegal offline is also illegal on the Internet, providing a more secure digital environment for users and imposing new obligations on platforms.

“With DSA, the days when big online platforms behaved as if they were ‘too big to nurture’ are coming to an end.”said Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market, on Twitter. At the beginning of the project with Margrethe Vestager, his competition colleague, he had proposed this regulation together with another: the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which was adopted last month.

New rules for online platforms

As a pioneer in digital regulation, Europe will commit to online platforms, ie. social networks and e-commerce sites, to take measures to protect users from content, goods and illegal services. They will have to allow them to report illegal content online with “a clearer notification and action procedure”. This will also force them to react faster. The EU is also planning “enhanced security measures to ensure that messages are treated in a non-arbitrary and non-discriminatory manner and respect fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and data protection”.

E-commerce sites must ensure that the products and services that consumers buy are secure. To do this, they must strengthen the control to prove that the information from the sellers is reliable, but also perform, among other things, random checks to prevent the emergence of illegal content on their platforms.

In case of non-compliance, online platforms will be fined up to 6% of their global revenue. They must comply with it before the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023, when the DSA is expected to enter into force. This period will be longer for small and medium-sized enterprises to support “Innovation in the digital economy”according to the European Parliament.

Commitments to a safer Internet

The EU envisages other commitments to create a more secure digital space for users. It will impose greater transparency on platforms with regard to their recommendation systems. In other words, users need to be better informed about how content is recommended to them, and will have the option to disable this personalized algorithmic sorting.

On the online advertising site, users will be better able to control how their personal data is used, and sensitive data such as sexual orientation, religion or ethnic origin will not be able to be used for advertising targeting. Targeted advertising will also be totally banned for minors. This is part of the measures that online platforms will be required to take when they are available to this section of the population.

Finally, DSA will protect users from “dark patterns” or fake interfaces. It will ban the use of these to manipulate the choice of internet users. Thus, platforms and online sales sites will not be allowed to pressure users to use their services, e.g. by placing greater emphasis on a particular choice.

Specific rules for very large platforms

The regulation on digital services is particularly aimed at very large platforms, ie those with more than 45 million users. In addition to other rules, they have “will have to comply with stricter obligations under the DSA, proportionate to the significant societal risks they pose to the dissemination of illegal and harmful content, including misinformation”said the European Parliament.

They will thus be forced to be transparent about the operation of their algorithms by giving the European Commission and the Member States access to them. They will also be required to submit annual reports on the risks they pose and the means put in place to mitigate them in the areas of the spread of illegal content, the harmful effects of violence against minors or the consequences for the physical and mental health of users. They will also have to submit to independent audits each year.

A welcome adoption in the United States

While the adoption of the DSA has been praised in Europe, it has also been welcomed in the United States. “For the first time in history, the public will be able to ask independent questions about how Meta and other major platforms work and get the data to see the truth.”said Frances Haugen, the whistleblower behind the Facebook files, on Twitter. This adoption was also desired by political figures, such as hillary clinton, who believe that digital platforms have amplified disinformation and extremism without responsibility for too long. She had called Europe “to get the Digital Services Act over the finish line and strengthen global democracy before it’s too late” April 21st.

The same day, Former President Barack Obama called for regulating social mediaand accuses the latter of having amplified much “The Worst Instincts of Mankind”. According to him, “one of the main reasons for the weakening of democracies is the profound change in our ways of communicating and informing ourselves”. He also spoke about the phenomenon of misinformation, citing Donald Trump, who had not acknowledged Joe Biden’s victory by the end of 2020 and had incited his supporters to violence that had led to the storm of the Capitol in early 2021.

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