Internet: pedophilia, forgery, misinformation … The EU is finalizing “historic” regulatory legislation

Better to fight murder calls, pedophile images, misinformation campaigns or counterfeit products … The EU concluded new “historic” legislation to regulate the Internet on Saturday 23 April.

The text, which has been debated for almost a year and a half, has to hold very large digital platforms accountable, such as Facebook (Meta) or Amazon, forcing them to remove illegal content and cooperate with the authorities.

The result of this long-term work is presented in the form of the “Digital Services Act” (DSA) and is one of two parts of a far-reaching plan presented in December 2020 by Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, and his Internal Market counterpart, Thierry Breton. The first part, the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which addresses anti-competitive practices, was concluded in late March.

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

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

Remove illegal content

When it comes to social media, users should be suspended for “frequently” providing illegal content such as hate speech and fraudulent ads.

For online sales sites, they will need to verify the identity of the sellers before authorizing them on their platform and blocking repeat scammers. Random checks will be performed on your ads. The DSA also prohibits misleading interfaces (known as “dark patterns”) that push Internet users into certain account settings or payment services.

For online platforms, with the exception of micro and small businesses, they will have the obligation to remove “quickly” any illegal content as soon as they become aware of counterfeit products, dangerous to health, in accordance with national and European laws.

Online advertising will also be better regulated. Thus, the platforms must allow each user to know the parameters used to target them and know who is funding the ad. The text also prohibits advertising aimed at minors and targeting “sensitive” features, such as political leanings or religious affiliation.

Finally, online platforms will need to publish an annual report detailing, in particular, the actions being taken to moderate content. They will have to set up a free claims system to challenge decisions to withdraw information, suspend or cancel an account.

The Gafam in question

The project also imposes new obligations on “very large platforms”, those with “more than 45 million active users” in the EU, such as Gafam, as well as Twitter, and perhaps TikTok or Booking.

These actors must themselves assess the risks associated with the use of their services and put in place the appropriate means to eliminate problematic content. Greater transparency will be imposed on their data and recommendation algorithms.

They will be audited once a year by independent bodies under the supervision of the European Commission, which may impose fines of up to 6% of its annual sales in the event of repeated infringements. In particular, the DSA prohibits the use of data on political opinions for advertising purposes.

A world first

For the EU Council, this text “enshrines the principle that what is illegal offline must also be illegal online”.

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday evening called on the EU to adopt this new legislation to “support global democracy before it’s too late”. For too long, technology platforms have amplified misinformation and extremism without accountability, “he said.

U.S. whistleblower Frances Haugen, who denounced Facebook’s passivity in the face of social media harassment, praised the DSA’s “enormous potential” in November, which could become a “benchmark” for other countries, including the United States.

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