In recent years, the online space has become a key playing field in politics and business. Following the experience of the pandemic and the ongoing hybrid war in Russia, the European Council has decided to take measures to increase the safety of users on the Internet. It follows the principle “what is illegal offline will be illegal and online”.
Many of the new rules will be based on the so-called Digital Services Act (DSA). The commission approved a month after the Digital Market Act (DMA) package to limit the influence of technology giants, whose power prevents smaller players from fair participation in the digital market.
“With DSA, we help create a safe and responsible online environment. Platforms should be transparent about their decisions to moderate content, prevent the spread of dangerous misinformation and avoid offering dangerous products in their stores. With today’s agreement, we ensure that platforms are responsible for the risks that their services may pose to society and citizens, ”explains EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who is responsible for ‘digital age readiness’ in the EU.
Limiting the influence of giants and protecting individuals
DSA focuses mainly on “very large online platforms” and “very large online search engines”, which have over 45 million active users per month in the EU. Platforms with less than 45 million active users will be relieved of some obligations.
The new rules include measures to combat the sale of illegal goods, services or content, measures to strengthen the powers of users and civil society and, last but not least, rules on controlling and mitigating the risks associated with the operation of digital services.
Digital Services Act
Measures to combat illegal goods, services or online content, such as: a mechanism for users to easily label such content, and for platforms to work with so-called “trusted flaggers” new obligations to monitor business users in online marketplacesNew empowerment measures and powers of users and civil society, including: the possibility to challenge platform moderation decisions and seek redress, either through an out-of-court dispute mechanism or by judicial access to key researchers’ access to key data on the largest platforms and granting NGOs access to public data , in order to provide a better overview of how online risks are evolving transparency measures for online platforms in various ways, including making available the algorithms used to recommend content or products to usersMeasures to assess and mitigate risks such as: obligations for very large platforms and very large online search engines to take risk-based measures to prevent abuse of their systems, and to undergo independent audits of their risk management systems, mechanisms for rapid and effective adaptation in the event of a crisis affecting public safety or public healthNew measures to protect minors and restrict use Sensitive personal data for targeted advertising Enhanced surveillance and enforcement by the European Commission of very large online platforms. The oversight and enforcement framework also confirms the important role of independent digital services coordinators and the Digital Services Council
source: European Commission press release on the adoption of the DSA
In addition to tightening up the supervision of illegal content, the measures will focus, for example, on so-called dark patterns. These are tactics that lead people subconsciously and deceptively, for example, to buy overpriced products or services. The rules will also apply to the protection of minors.
Control over the dissemination of false information in times of crisis, such as the current war in Ukraine, will also be tightened. In such situations, the European Commission will have the opportunity to analyze the progress of large online platforms and, if necessary, take the necessary measures to ensure fundamental rights.
Fines in the hundreds of billions
It is clear that the European Commission does not take digital security lightly and is a legislative pioneer in this area. And the fact that it’s not just empty words is also evidenced by the fines that will threaten large technology companies for breaking the rules.
In the event of a repeated breach of the DSA rules, which should probably enter into force as early as 2024, large platforms face fines of up to six percent of total world turnover, or even a ban on EU operations if they are breached again. For example, for Meta, which owns Facebook or Instagram, such a fine would amount to 157.8 billion crowns.
“Today’s agreement on the Digital Services Act is historic, both in terms of speed and content. The DSA updates the basic rules for all online services in the EU. It will ensure that the online environment remains a secure space and ensures freedom of expression and opportunities for digital businesses. It puts into practice the principle that what is illegal offline should be illegal online, “European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the DSA.
The European Union has been working for several years to tighten regulation in the world of digital technologies. At the end of last year, Google lost a court battle with the EU and was forced to pay a fine of 2.42 billion euros (approximately 59 billion crowns). Such an amount represents one percent of the total annual turnover of the parent company Alphabet, which is owned by Google.
And the European Union continues to enforce current legislation. The European Commission is currently investigating both Google and Meta, as well as Amazon, the largest online retailer.
And what about the others?
While Europe is adopting new rules, the US is still debating how to get big technology companies to regulate harmful content on their platforms. On Thursday, former President Barack Obama called on Congress to consider the current wording of Section 230, which relieves social network operators of responsibility for content shared by users.
In March, the United Kingdom passed an online security law that, if violated, allows for, among other things, imprisonment for high-tech executives. The online security law has been widely criticized by some technology leaders, including large technology companies, mainly because of the vague description of what exactly is “legal but harmful.”