EU’s Digital Services Act Aims to Make Big Tech Accountable

Posted on April 25, 2022 by Laurent Giret in Cloud with 30 Comments

The European Parliament and EU Member States have reached an agreement on the Digital Services Act. The new set of rules was initially proposed by the European Commission back in December 2020, and it aims to make big tech companies accountable for the content users encounter on the Internet.

The Digital Services Act is a complement to the Digital Markets Act, which goal is to limit the power of the biggest technology companies. As a reminder, one of the implications of this new legislation would be that messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or iMessage would need to become interoperable so that smaller messaging platforms can compete with them.

“The Digital Services Act will upgrade the ground-rules for all online services in the EU. It will ensure that the online environment remains a safe space, safeguarding freedom of expression and opportunities for digital businesses. It gives practical effect to the principle that what is illegal offline, should be illegal online,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a press release.

In practice, the Digital Services Act will force all digital platforms offering goods, services, or content to ensure that they’re not exposing consumers to illegal content. “The greater the size, the greater the responsibilities of online platforms” emphasized the European Commission President.

The implications of the Digital Services act are quite complex, but they will apply to Internet access providers, cloud computing services, search engines, online marketplaces, and social media platforms. The DSA contains measures to allow consumers to flag illegal goods, services, and content on the Internet, and it will also require online marketplaces to ensure the traceability of business users.

The DSA will also require platforms to be more transparent about the algorithms they use to recommend content to users, with new safeguards to protect minors from targeted advertising. Very large platforms and search engines will also be required to prevent the misuse of their systems for spreading disinformation, especially during crises affecting public security or public health.

“The DSA is setting clear, harmonised obligations for platforms – proportionate to size, impact and risk, said Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market. “It entrusts the Commission with supervising very large platforms, including the possibility to impose effective and dissuasive sanctions of up to 6% of global turnover or even a ban on operating in the EU single market in case of repeated serious breaches,” Breton also emphasized.

The Digital Services Act will be enforced in 2024, with an exception for the very large online platforms and very large online search engines that have yet to be defined by European institutions. Once this is done, the DSA will apply to them four months after their designation. “As the law is finalised and implemented, the details will matter. We look forward to working with policymakers to get the remaining technical details right to ensure the law works for everyone,” Google shared in a statement with Reuters.

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Comments (30)

30 responses to “EU’s Digital Services Act Aims to Make Big Tech Accountable”

  1. lvthunder

    Freedom of expression and stopping the spread of disinformation are at complete odds with each other. Also, who gets to decide what is disinformation? Here in the US the social media companies claimed the Hunter Biden Laptop was disinformation and newspapers had their social media accounts banned because of it. Now it is known to be true. How many times did the narrative around COVID change? Remember when the government was telling us masks don't do any good.

    • Rik

      That may have something to do with the fact that the laptop story was misinformation? The vast majority of the contents couldn't be confirmed to be authentic, much less relate anything of it to Joe Biden.

      The "narrative" around Covid didn't change. As we learned more about Covid, our understanding and treatment of the situation was adjusted. The US government never said taht masks don't help, they said it was more essential for medical personal to have access to it and knew that causing a rush to buy masks would create a shortage and thus adviced against it until the supply could match the demand.

      • Donte

        "the laptop story was misinformation"

        Huh???? It's real and starting to real damaging to some. None of the MSM networks still wont really touch it. Personally I do not care unless there is something on it that is illegal.

        If it is just Joe Biden (at the time not President) trying to help some Chinese donor get his kid into a prestigious college by writing a recommendation letter, they I honestly do not care because it is not illegal. This stuff happens all the time and while I think it is scummy and just makes politicians look worse, it is nothing new. Those with money and power get away with anything.

      • lvthunder

        The narrative on COVID most certainly has changed. Some of the radio hosts I listen to had stuff banned on YouTube that a month or two later Fauchi was saying the exact same thing.

        Even the New York Times says all the stuff on the laptop were real. Who cares if it implicates Joe Biden or not? It tells voters how conflicted his son is. The press seemed to care a great deal about every little thing the Trump kids were doing.

      • wright_is

        In Europe, masks were essential from the beginning, but due to shortages, pp2 was kept back for medical professionals and people were encouraged to make their own masks or plain OP masks, until,production of pp2 could be ramped up to meet demand.

        Germany has very strict rules on what is acceptable. Speech is free, within certain limits. Being the source of the Holocaust, it is illegal to deny it ever happened, for example. You also cannot promote hatred against others. Those are a bit simplified and there are a few others, but basically don’t tell lies and don’t call for violence or death against others and you can say pretty much what you want.

        • waethorn

          Try to even mention Nazis in a historical context. It’s entirely taboo to even bring them up in conversation. The government doesn’t want to be shamed.

          • wright_is

            Absolute rubbish. There are plenty of documentaries about National Socialism in Germany and it regularly gets mentioned on TV, there is plenty of satire around it in Germany.

            What you can't do is glorify National Socialism or deny the bad things they did. If you do that, you get into trouble. Likewise, showing the Nazi flag or other symbolism in a positive way is banned. Using it as part of a discussion on the historical context of national socialism in Germany is perfectly fine.

            Mention the National Socialists built the Autobahn network is fine, but denying they used slave labour from unemployed Germans to build it is not allowed. for example. Showing parts of Hitler's speeches as part of a historical document, fine. Using his speeches to promote neo-national socialism as a good thing is not allowed.

            A lot of older Germans (70+) tend to avoid talking about the war and the holocaust much, it is shameful to them, but it is not illegal to do so, as long as you don't try to deny it took place or glorify the killing of millions of people or glorify the people behind those killings.

            This is why the political party AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) has so many problems, they are basically right wing noe-national socialists, but with a thin veneer of respectability. Some of their members are openly abusing the laws around glorification of national socialism, hate speech etc. to drum up support and keep getting tangled up with the German equivalent of the NSA, the Verfassungsschutz. Some of them have actually had to step down, because they stepped over the mark.

            Germany's history is also, probably, one of the main reasons why the party never gained more than around a 10% share of the vote and only has a few seats in parliament, compare to La Pen's around 48% of the vote in France last week.

    • darkgrayknight

      Exactly. I like the idea of stopping disinformation, if it really is disinformation, but proving that it is disinformation or not is going to be difficult--particularly when the actual amount of information to compare to is not enough to confirm (or deny) other disinformation.

      I think they should error on the side of allowing free speech even if it might be disinformation and just not promote anything in their algorithms.

  2. mikegalos

    And court case from Apple to block interoperability in 3...2...1...

    • Bart

      This is law in the EU. Doubt Apple would even stand a chance.

      • waethorn

        Why did Apple get away with using the Lightning port instead of micro-USB then?

      • CasualAdventurer

        Just thinking out loud here... What if Apple said: "Our markets in the US, China and India are so large, we don't need to sell to the EU. If the EU pass this "interoperability" law it weakens our approach to security and communication, so we will not be making the iPhone available to the EU any longer." ? What then? Think the EU would pass the law? As an American I can only guess, but my guess is the law would go down in flames. Everyone loves their iPhone.

        • Bart

          It is not a matter of passing the law. It has already passed. US companies have tried to water down the law, but the EU didn't play along. Thankfully.

          As for your assumption Apple would turn down the European market; no. Europe is simply too big of a market for Apple to turn down. It would mean a huge blow for Apple's profits and shareholders. And for what? Artificial walled gardens.

  3. JH_Radio

    So how will this work. Do companies say hey ok, we'll do this thing in Europe because its the law there but the US, nope because we don't gotta?

    • lvthunder

      It means Messaging will become like wired telephone service. It will be dumbed down to make everything compatible and then no one will improve it.

    • stvbnsn

      That's mainly how GDPR was implemented, on that side of the Atlantic they build for and follow those draconian EU directives, and on the other side they follow US law.

      I for one am looking forward to this because it pins two groups I don't have a lot of affection for big tech on one side, and the EU on the other. So a bruiser type scrap between the two will be amusing to watch.

      • navarac

        Being in "Brexit" UK, the EU to me is a bureaucratic nightmare reminiscent of George Orwells 1984!

        • Bart

          How is it bureaucratic to you? Wonder how the EU hinders you? As someone who commutes between the UK and the Netherlands Brexit has brought nothing but negative effects.

          • lvthunder

            That's by design of the EU. They want it to be painful to keep other countries from doing it.

            • wright_is

              No, that is by design of the UK.

              For anyone who read the EU website before the Brexit vote, it was clearly outlined exactly what restrictions are placed on 3rd countries (non-EU), so it was crystal clear, what exactly the UK would be facing, if they left the EU - and they are now facing exactly what all other 3rd countries face.

              The problem is, the Brexit lobbying played on patriotism and "sovereignty", while lying about the repercussions on trade and movement - just look at the idiot ex-pats living in Europe who voted Brexit and didn't bother to integrate into the local communities and didn't try and find out what they had to do to remain in Europe, because they believed the Brexit lobby. Now they are being forcibly repatriated to the UK as illegal aliens, because they failed to register with their local communities, failed to get paperwork in order, because the UK Government told them, they would be okay, when, if they had bothered to look at their national or municipal government websites, they would have seen that they needed to register for their community, register for tax and register for health insurance etc. and organise a visa to let them stay after the 90 day period.

              Now, after the 90 days are over, they are being shipped back to the UK, just like anyone with an ounce of sense would know, having looked at EU and national regulations before Brexit. And they are moaning about being treated unfairly. because they ignored reality and the rules that applied to them staying where they are.

              As an ex-pat Brit living in Europe, the first thing I did when Brexit raised its head was to check out exactly what that meant to me, living in Germany and what it meant to the UK. Back before the vote, I realised that it would be exactly what we see today. This isn't the EU punishing the UK, other than enforcing the rules that everybody else outside the EU has to deal with. There are no extra restrictions placed on the UK, just the same restrictions as everyone else, but for a company that has known free-trade with Europe for 5 decades and free movement for nearly 3 decades, that is suddenly a very different situation.

              After the Brexit vote went through, I knew I had to get my cards in order, if I wanted to stay in my house and keep on working - staying in the house would probably have been okay, I have a German wife, so could have remained in Germany fairly easily, but work? That would be down to whether the UK could negotiate an exception for UK citizens working in Europe (highly unlikely, given that one of the main goals of Brexit was to kick out Europeans working in the UK), so I ensured I was covered and got all my paperwork sorted, so I could remain in Germany and, more importantly, keep working in Europe.

              We are also seeing the total lack of coordination or preparation in the UK, their new Customs and Excise system wasn't ready for the cut-off date and paperwork had to be done manually, for example. It still isn't working smoothly and the old system that people have to use to register their produce for export requires the use of Internet Explorer 6 or IE 11 in compatibility mode! In 2022! No registering on your phone or tablet, no registering using a Mac, Chromebook or Linux device (no registering if you have a new Windows 11 PC) and come June, probably no registering using a fully updated Windows 10 PC!

              If you want to import/export produce to/from the UK, before the new system is brought online, you will have to use an insecure PC to do so...

              There are dozens of examples of failures in Brexit. The 350M pounds a week that would be saved and would be pumped into the NHS, for example, disappeared in a puff of smoke and now tax rises and National Insurance rises are being put in place to help fund the NHS.

            • Bart

              You are looking at it the wrong way. Much like the US protects its market, so does the EU. This is not pain inflicted by the EU as the UK was part of the EU. This is pain inflicted by the UK as they decided to get out of the EU.

              • waethorn

                Like a cult, you can’t leave.

                • wright_is

                  It is like any club, if you are in the club, you can enjoy the benefits of being a member. If you leave the club, you lose those benefits.

                  The problem is, the Brexit lobby wanted to leave, but keep all the benefits they wanted and sold that to the public, whilst knowing full well, that that was an unobtainable goal. Anyone with the nouse to go and look at the rules would that would apply, once the UK left, would have seen that the whole Brexit platform was pie in the sky.

    • red.radar

      They could balkanize their offerings, but likely what will happen is the same thing that happened during implementation of GDPR.

      Companies will comply because cost to differentiate the products is higher than compliance.

  4. red.radar

    I wonder how things will be handled if as an iMessage user I don't want people on WhatsApp talking to me? I don't want my personal information leaking to Facebook.

    • wright_is

      Too late. If you WhatsApp using friends have your contact details (name, address, email, phone number etc.) in their contacts application on their phone, then they are already sharing your information with Meta/Facebook, whether they send you messages over a gateway between iMessage and WhatsApp or not.

      WhatsApp uploads all contact details, regardless of whether you want your details uploaded or not. So, your details are probably cross-referenced dozens or hundreds of times on their systems already, they can see your WhatsApp using friends network already, even if you only use iMessage and have never installed WhatsApp. That is why it is essentially illegal in Europe and why it is definitely a major GDPR problem for employers, if their employees have WhatsApp on their company phones, or company contacts on their private phones. This is also why WhatsApp explicitly states that you must use WhatsApp for Business in Europe, if you have any business contacts in your contacts app.

      The proposed change would mean that a message sent from iMessage to a WhatsApp user and vice-versa would go over a Bridge between the two apps, but it wouldn't change how WhatsApp uploads contact details at all, in that regard, you would be no more or less exposed than you are now.

    • Bart

      For what I understand so far, this will only happen when you allow WhatsApp to communicate with you. So, your friend might want it, but it is up to you.

      • red.radar

        The other interpretation I have read is that APIs will be exposed so WhatsApp user can use their iMessage credentials to send iMessage “messages” from within WhatsApp. So its more like the old days of the instant messaging apps logging into multiple networks within one app. Not messages going across networks.