EU agrees to tighter rules for digital services

The EU agreed to historic legislation that will guard the online world. This was made on Saturday after hours of negotiation. The Digital Services Act or DSA will provide practical effect to the principle that what is illegal offline should also be illegal online, said the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

This legislation would require greater responsibility from tech companies over the contents on their platforms. It will make sure that the platforms will be made accountable for the risks that their services are posing to the citizens and society, said Margrethe Vestager, the Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age. Fines that await companies that would fail to comply could be up to 6% of their annual turnover.  

The final DSA document is yet to be issued. However, according to the European Parliament and European Commission, here are some of the highlights of the legislation: 

  • Ban on targeted advertising for minors and other users based on their religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. 
  • Prohibition on the use of “dark patterns” to steer users to certain choices 
  • Transparency on issues, including the recommender algorithms used by big online platforms in recommending products and content to users, and offering of recommender systems not anchored on profiling. 
  • Availability of effective safeguard for online users, which involves the ability to challenge the platform’s decisions on content moderation. 
  • Provision of better insights regarding how online risks evolve through the largest online platforms’ sharing of key data to vetted researches
  • Measures to deal with illegal content, services, and goods online, which may include a mechanism for easier user flagging of such contents  
  • Measures to evaluate and mitigate risks which may include large platforms’ mechanisms to deal with misinformation during a crisis
  • Obligations of very large online platforms to conduct risk-based action and independent audits of their risk management system to secure their systems from being misused. 
  • Oversight structure to manage the complex nature of the digital space. 

This act will distinguish the obligations of the tech companies based on their sizes, roles, and the impact that they make on the online ecosystem. These include intermediary services, hosting services, online platforms, and very large online platforms. It assigns bigger obligations to bigger companies. For instance, Meta and Google, which have at least 45 million users in the EU, would have the greatest responsibilities. For such a reason, it was no wonder that these companies tried hard to water down some of the DSA provisions.  

It could be assumed that the effect of this ambitious legislation would not be limited to the borders of the EU. While its actual implementation will be for EU citizens, other states could look up to this legislation for inspiration in drafting their own digital police legislations. Further, for cost-effective measures, it is also very much likely that global tech companies will adopt a single strategy to monitor their all contents, using the DFA for benchmark. 

Even though the EU had already agreed to the DSA in broad terms, there is still a need to finalize the act and have it voted into law officially. The rules will apply to the tech companies 15 months after this act is voted into law or from Jan 1, 2024.

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