EU’s Digital Services Act: A new dawn
On July 5, history was made with the European Parliament voting on the new Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA), following a deal between Parliament and Council on 23 April and 24 March, respectively. According to the EU Commission, the DSA sets out an unprecedented new standard for the accountability of online platforms regarding illegal and harmful content. It will provide better protection for internet users and their fundamental rights and define a single set of rules in the internal market, helping smaller platforms to scale up. Additionally, the DSA contains EU-wide due diligence obligations that will apply to all digital services connecting consumers to goods, services, or content, including new procedures for faster removal of illegal content and comprehensive protection for users’ fundamental rights online.
The Digital Services Act was adopted with 539 votes in favour, 54 votes against and 30 abstentions. The Digital Markets Act – with 588 in favour, 11 votes against and 31 abstentions.
What is illegal offline should be illegal online.
The Digital Services Act (DSA) sets clear obligations for digital service providers, such as social media or marketplaces, to tackle the spread of illegal content, online disinformation and other societal risks. These requirements are proportionate to the size and risks platforms pose to society.
The new obligations include:
- New measures to counter illegal content online and obligations for platforms to react quickly while respecting fundamental rights, including the freedom of expression and data protection;
- Strengthened traceability and checks on traders in online marketplaces to ensure products and services are safe; including efforts to perform random checks on whether illegal content resurfaces;
- Increased transparency and accountability of platforms, for example, by providing clear information on content moderation or the use of algorithms for recommending content (so-called recommender systems); users will be able to challenge content moderation decisions;
- Bans on misleading practices and certain types of targeted advertising, such as those targeting children and ads based on sensitive data. The so-called “dark patterns” and misleading practices to manipulate users’ choices will also be prohibited.
The EU Commission has welcomed the agreement reached between the European Parliament and the EU Member States on the Digital Services Act (DSA) proposal proposed by the Commission in December 2020.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Today’s agreement on the Digital Services Act is historic, both in speed and substance. The DSA will upgrade the ground rules for all online services in the EU. It will ensure that the online environment remains safe, 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. The greater the size, the greater the responsibilities of online platforms. Today’s agreement – complementing the political agreement on the Digital Markets Act last month – sends a strong signal: to all Europeans, EU businesses, and our international counterparts.”
The safe and accountable online environment
Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age, Margrethe Vestager, added: “With the DSA we help create a safe and accountable online environment. Platforms should be transparent about their content moderation decisions, prevent dangerous disinformation from going viral and avoid unsafe products being offered on market places. With today’s agreement, we ensure that platforms are held accountable for the risks their services can pose to society and citizens.”
A new era
Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton further commented: “With the DSA, the time of big online platforms behaving like they are “too big to care” is coming to an end. The DSA sets clear, harmonized obligations for platforms – proportionate to size, impact and risk. It entrusts the Commission with supervising extensive platforms, including the possibility of imposing 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. EU institutions have worked together in record time, with determination and ambition to protect our citizens online.”
A new framework for digital services
The new framework under the DSA is founded on European values, including respect for human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. It will rebalance the rights and responsibilities of users, and online intermediaries, including online platforms, huge online platforms, and public authorities.