EU strikes landmark deal to end lawless internet zones

Better to fight murder calls, pedophile images, disinformation campaigns or counterfeit goods… The EU on Saturday finalized “historic” new legislation to bring order to the Internet’s Far West.

The text, discussed almost a year and a half ago, should hold very large digital platforms, such as Facebook (Meta) or Amazon responsible, forcing them to remove illegal content and cooperate with the authorities.

Read too: In the face of technology giants, Switzerland is the stowaway of the European TGV

“This agreement is historic”, welcomed the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen on Twitter, “our new rules will protect users online, guarantee freedom of expression and opportunities for companies”.

The Digital Services Act (DSA) is one of two parts of a far-reaching plan presented in December 2020 by Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager and her Internal Market colleague Thierry Breton.

Reviewed: Faced with the abuses of technology giants, Europe reveals its weapons: ten questions to understand

The first part, the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which deals with anti-competitive practices, was completed at the end of March.

The DSA, in turn, updates the e-commerce directive, which was born 20 years ago, when giant platforms were still in their infancy. Objective: to end the areas of illegality and abuse on the Internet.

The terrible example of Samuel Pat

The excesses of social media have often made headlines. Murder of history professor Samuel Paty in France following a hate campaign in October 2020, attack by protesters on the US Capitol in January 2021, partially planned thanks to Facebook and Twitter…

The dark side of the Internet also concerns sales platforms invaded by counterfeit or defective products, which can be dangerous, such as children’s toys that do not meet safety standards.

The new regulation stipulates the obligation to “promptly” remove any illegal content (in accordance with national and European laws) as soon as a platform becomes aware of it. It forces social networks to suspend users who “frequently” break the law.

DSA will oblige online sales sites to verify the identity of their suppliers before offering their products.

It prohibits deceptive (“dark pattern”) interfaces that push Internet users to certain account settings or certain paid services.

“Before it’s too late”

At the heart of the project, new obligations imposed on “very large platforms”, those with “more than 45 million active users” in the EU, that is, about twenty companies, whose list has not yet been defined, but which will include Gafam ( Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft) as well as Twitter and maybe TikTok or Booking.

These players must assess the risks associated with using their services and implement appropriate means to remove problematic content. They will have greater transparency in their data and recommendation algorithms.

They will be audited once a year by independent bodies and placed under the supervision of the European Commission, which may impose fines of up to 6% of their annual sales in the event of a repeat offence.

In particular, the DSA prohibits the use of political opinion data for advertising targeting purposes.

This text “is a world first in terms of digital regulation”, underlined the Council of the EU, which represents the 27 Member States, in a press release. It “enshrines the principle that what is illegal offline must also be illegal online.”

Responsibility is imperative

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday urged the EU to adopt this new legislation to “support global democracy before it is too late”. “For too long, technology platforms have amplified disinformation and unaccountable extremism,” she said.

The American whistleblower Frances Haugen, who denounced Facebook’s passivity in the face of the annoyances of its social networks, had praised in November the “huge potential” of the DSA that could become a “benchmark” for other countries, including the United States.

In the context of the war in Ukraine and the disinformation campaigns it promotes, lawmakers added “a crisis response mechanism”, the European Council said. Activated by decision of the Commission, it will allow the adoption of “proportionate and effective” measures against very large platforms that would contribute to the spread of fake news.

Leave a Comment