Regulation of the Net: European States ready to strike hard



Posted on Nov 26, 2021, 9:00 AM

The Internet players, Gafam in the lead, are officially warned: the States of the European Union are determined to use the hard way to put order in the digital space. On Thursday, the ministers responsible for Digital Affairs of the 27, meeting at the Council in Brussels, unanimously adopted their common position on the future Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA), presented in December 2020 by the European Commission.

“It’s a historic day. Everyone has understood the crucial importance of the stakes. The unanimity of States is a very strong signal. Europe will be the first continent with a real solid body of rules for the digital world ”, reacted Thursday the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton.

At the end of debates marked by a common desire to move quickly, they confirm the ambition of these two draft regulations, which aim for the DSA to better regulate content (hate speech, counterfeiting, targeted advertising, infox, etc.) and for the DMA to prevent abuse of a dominant position.

Following the example of the European Parliament, which is also finalizing its examination of the texts, the Council adheres to the logic which guided the Commission, without going so far as to call into question the e-commerce directive of 2000 and the status of “host passive ”. It is necessary to place the “structuring platforms” in front of their responsibilities, with a battery of obligations and prohibitions to “make illegal online what is offline”, according to the phrase of Thierry Breton, architect of the project.

Prevent rather than cure

With the DMA, Europe wants above all to better prevent upstream the abuses that it is struggling today to heal downstream. The text defines a clear list of unfair practices, with increasing obligations and constraints depending on the weight of the platforms.

Brussels is also preparing to control more severely and more quickly the acquisitions of the Internet giants, to prevent them from stifling competition. The States did not modify the text much but took care to tighten some bolts of the initial project, in particular by opening the possibility to the national competition authorities of launching themselves more investigations to chew up the work of the Commission.

The DMA will send a strong message: the rules are set by lawmakers, not by companies.

Andreas Schwab Rapporteur of the text

The planets are aligned with the Parliament, where the political groups reached a compromise on Tuesday on the DMA close to that of the States. “The current rules alone cannot address all the problems posed by the ability of digital giants to set conditions allowing them to engage in unfair practices. The DMA will exclude these practices and send a strong message: the rules are set by the legislators, not by the companies ”, welcomes the rapporteur of the text, Andreas Schwab (EPP, conservatives).

Freedom of speech

Against a background of cultural differences, the debates between States on the control of content via the DSA have been more complex. They quickly excluded the most radical options, such as general filtering of publications, to seek, like the Commission, a finer balance. Their compromise indeed requires the mandatory and rapid removal of illegal content reported by trusted third parties.

States will have control over their territory but have also taken care to strengthen the powers of the Commission, to act against platforms posing recurring problems in several Member States. Brussels promises to push them to review their algorithms. “The strength of the DSA is that we do not only deal with the piecemeal removal of illegal content, but that we also attack their systemic nature,” explains a European diplomat.

Trilogues in sight

This green light from the Council is an important step. The EU remains on schedule to hope that the Parliament and the Council finalize the “trilogues”, where they will have to agree on the final common text, by mid-2022. France, which will hold the Presidency of the Council of the EU from January to June, will have a central role in dictating the debates and the tempo.

Even well started, the work will still be important. The lobbies remain very active, differences remain between the Council and the Parliament on the DSA and States are already laying the groundwork to return to the charge on certain points.

Traceability

The final scope of the new obligation of traceability of client companies imposed on certain hosting providers, a key point in the fight against the sale of counterfeits, will for example be fiercely discussed. The Commission wants to focus it on “marketplaces”, such as Amazon; the Council also wants to apply it to “very large search engines” (45 million users); Parliament also plans to extend it to social networks, advertising agencies and payment services. Some states also require the importer to be held responsible when an offending third party seller is unreachable. Complex compromises will also have to emerge on the mechanisms for reporting and removing illegal content, the associated deadlines and the governance of the system.

Brussels wants to impose transparency on political advertising

The European Commission presented on Thursday a proposal for a regulation to ensure the transparency of political advertisements, by requiring the platforms broadcasting them to specify who finances them, in reaction in particular to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

“Digital advertising for political purposes is becoming a frenzied race for dirty and opaque methods,” denounced the Vice-President of the European Commission, in charge of values ​​and transparency, Vera Jourova.

These messages on behalf of a personality or a political party, or likely to influence the outcome of elections, and whose distribution is remunerated, must be clearly presented to Internet users as being advertising. The draft regulation does not concern the messages that politicians themselves post on social networks. (AFP)

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