The EU is now one step closer to putting the screws on Google and Apple with new Digital Services Act (DSA) proposals on tougher privacy rules having been approved by the assembly’s civil liberties and justice committee.
The DSA is the trading bloc’s latest proposal to reel in the power of Silicon Valley, updating and replacing rules implemented in 2000 in the now obsolete E-Commerce Directive. The old piece of legislation came into force before platforms like Facebook, YouTube and smartphone app stores were even a thing.
The DSA is designed to force big digital companies to do more to fight harmful content such as exploitation of children, hate speech and, to some extent, fake news. It is part of a dual package of bills that also includes the upcoming Digital Markets Act, which is aiming to prevent companies like Apple and Google from acting as market gatekeepers and to form monopolies.
Patrick Breyer, Group of the Greens member of the European Parliament and member of the German Piratenpartei Deutschland, has argued that the DSA need stronger protection of people’s privacy.
Breyer’s proposals include the right to use and pay for digital services anonymously wherever reasonably feasible.
Additionally, he’d like to see phasing out of behavioural and personalised targeting for non-commercial and political advertising and no obligation on platforms to block access to content.
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The civil liberties and justice committee approved the proposal on Wednesday, leaving the two other committees responsible of shepherding the law through Brussels to approve them. The European Commission aims to have a joint position by the end of the year and to have the law implemented in 2022.
“It is clear that the European Parliament proposal will be much more ambitious than the Commission’s proposal, in some aspects it could be groundbreaking,” Breyer told Reuters.
Laura Petrone, senior analyst at GlobalData, tells Verdict it is still unclear how Breyer’s proposals will be implemented.
“However, this and other strict rules point to the fact that regulators are increasingly targeting these companies’ ad-funded business model which prioritises profit over respect for user’s privacy and content quality,” she says.
“A consensus is emerging that governments should hold social media companies responsible for the content they publish, as it can encourage anti-social and criminal behaviour. These companies are under the spotlight for spreading fake news and placing advertising from high-profile companies alongside hate speech or violent content.”
Indeed, the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google were grilled on this subject for over five hours by members of the US senate in March.
“Silicon Valley social media firms like Facebook have long presented themselves as neutral platforms and have always rejected attempts to label them as publishers or media companies,” Petrone says. “However, these companies make editorial decisions constantly; decisions that can have significant repercussions.
“Action to mitigate misinformation must be balanced with the right to freedom of expression, which allows individuals to hold opinions and receive and share ideas without state interference.
“But we are nonetheless starting to see some legislation directed at curbing misinformation around the world. The EU’s DSA presented by the EC is one example.”
The European Commission is also increasingly focusing on Big Tech’s alleged adverse impact on healthy competition and has launched several antitrust cases against companies like Apple and Google in recent months.