On Thursday, EU ministers gave the green light to their versions of two new EU rulebooks to tame Big Tech and tackle illegal content online.
Economics ministers from across the bloc approved common positions on digital competition and content moderation laws, known as the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA), during a press conference. Competitiveness Council meet in Brussels. The ministers’ approval paves the way for the EU Council and Parliament to draft the final texts next year.
The regulatory crackdown comes after years of revelations of excess and harmful practices on Big Tech’s online platforms, ranging from terrorist footage that went viral to the massive sharing of child pornography and anti-competitive practices by some of the world’s most popular platforms.
The new rules are also a key priority for policymakers in Paris. The French government takes over the presidency of the Council of the EU in January and wants to reach a final agreement on the new laws before the country’s presidential election in April.
“Today is a very important, almost historic day,” said French Minister of Digital, Cédric O, before Thursday’s discussion, describing the two bills as “potentially the most important in the history of regulation digital, both economically and content. side. “
Presented by the Commission in December 2020, the legal texts set out rules to force tech companies to better control content on their platforms and stimulate digital competition by limiting the sprawling power of tech giants such as Google, Apple, Amazon , Facebook and Microsoft.
Companies that violate the new laws could face fines of up to 10% of their global revenues.
The final version of the two texts could be adopted in the first half of 2022.
“We need these regulations and have been needing them for years now,” Danish Industry Minister Simon Kollerup told POLITICO ahead of the meeting. “It is an important step in democracy to be able to take back power for the future of the societies in which we live.”
POLITICO explains what ministers will agree to at Thursday’s meeting.
Suppression of illegal content
The Digital Services Act is a revised version of the e-commerce rules drafted over twenty years ago. It will set rules for how internet players handle content, affecting everyone from small registrars handling website names to large social media companies like Facebook and online marketplaces like Amazon.
The aim is to crack down on images of child sexual abuse, terrorist content and dangerous products, but also to force online platforms to open the black boxes of how their technology works.
What’s new for Big Tech?
EU countries supported much of the Commission’s original proposal, but clarified some rules, including specifically requiring internet giants to publicly disclose the number of employees who moderate content and languages. that they speak. Recent revelations from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen have highlighted the lack of resources the social media company is devoting to tackling harmful content in languages other than English.
Council officials also added new ideas. One is to force Big Tech to take action to protect children through age verification and parental controls; another prohibiting the use of deceptive or manipulative design tricks – known as dark patterns – to trick users into giving their consent to be followed on the platforms to get a personalized content recommendation.
Capitals also strengthened a rule allowing tech companies to notify law enforcement about suspected criminal offenses, extending the rule to cloud computing companies, which host image treasures.
What is there for the users?
Users of online platforms would also be granted new rights, including that a platform would have to tell them if it restricted the visibility of certain posts or suspended monetary payments – a boon for online influencers and “creators”. who live social media posts on the sites. like TikTok and YouTube.
Online marketplaces such as Amazon, AliExpress and eBay would also be forced to invest more effort in verifying who is selling goods on their platforms – a way to combat the spread of illegal and dangerous products online. Online shoppers would have better access to remedies.
Who will enforce the rules?
The most drastic change to the text by countries has been to empower the European Commission to hold Big Tech to account, rather than the Irish authorities, the EU country where most Big Tech companies are headquartered. European. Many countries, including France and Germany, have been frustrated with Dublin for its enforcement of the bloc’s privacy law, known as GDPR, against companies like Facebook.
When will this come into effect?
EU governments want to give tech companies a year and a half before the content moderation regulation comes into effect, instead of three months as initially proposed, meaning that the DSA would be applied for the first time in 2024 in the earlier.
More competition, please
The second part of the ministers’ agreement focuses on the EU’s attempt to rebalance the digital economy and temper the market power of platform giants as part of a new Digital Markets Law.
The bill would impose a series of bans and obligations on so-called “gatekeeper” platforms – companies that hold a lot of market power in the digital economy like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft.
How will they be “controlled”?
These tech giants would be banned from combining personal data from different sources and bundling digital services. Users would also have the right to remove preinstalled apps on their devices.
What is a “keeper”?
A major sticking point in the upcoming negotiations with European Parliament lawmakers will be the number of other small businesses that will be taken within the scope depending on where the EU places the threshold for calling a company a “keeper”.
The Commission wants the rules to cover companies with an annual turnover of at least € 6.5 billion in the last three years in Europe and a market capitalization of at least € 65 billion in the during the last fiscal year. A business would also need to have over 45 million monthly end users in the EU and over 10,000 active business users per year in the EU to be considered a custodian.
The French government, which will lead negotiations with the European Parliament on the plans in 2022, has given priority to the rules targeting the biggest players as a priority.
The German government also called this week for the digital markets law to focus on the “bigger” gatekeepers, calling for the definition of the bill to be further refined, in a diplomatic note seen by POLITICO.
The Commission has in mind a dozen companies that would fall under the new rules.
“Member states each have their own idea of how many companies will fall within the scope,” said an EU diplomat involved in the talks. “We believe there will be 11 companies that as it stands now qualify as gatekeeper platforms.”
How is Washington feeling?
Not very happy. Such a narrow definition could irritate the US government, however, as the rules can have a disproportionate impact on US businesses compared to other regions.
How does France feel?
The French government is confident of finding common ground between EU countries.
“There is still work to be done to refine the names of the platforms,” French Digital Secretary Cédric O told POLITICO on the sidelines of Thursday’s Competitiveness Council.
“However, there is some form of consensus to identify the real gatekeepers,” he added.
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