European Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | fake images
The European Union agreed on Saturday to new digital regulations that will force tech giants like Google and Meta to police illegal content on their platforms more aggressively, or else risk potential multimillion-dollar fines.
The European Parliament and EU member states have agreed on the Digital Services Act, a landmark piece of legislation that aims to tackle illegal and harmful content by prompting platforms to remove it quickly.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen issued a statement calling the law “historic.”
“The DSA will update the basic rules for all online services in the EU,” said von der Leyen. “It will ensure that the online environment remains a safe space, safeguarding freedom of expression and opportunities for digital business. It gives practical effect to the principle that what is illegal offline should be illegal online. The higher the size, the greater the responsibilities of online platforms”.
A key piece of legislation would limit how the digital giants target users with online ads. The DSA would effectively prevent platforms from targeting users with algorithms that use data based on their gender, race, or religion. Advertising directed at children will also be prohibited.
So-called dark patterns, deceptive tactics designed to push people toward certain products and services, will also be banned.
Tech companies will need to implement new procedures designed to remove illegal material such as hate speech, incitement to terrorism and child sexual abuse. E-commerce marketplaces like Amazon must also prevent sales of illegal products under the new rules.
Failure to comply with the rules can result in fines of up to 6% of the companies’ global annual revenue. For a company like Meta, the parent company of Facebook, that could mean a fine of up to $7 billion based on 2021 sales figures.
The DSA is separate from the Digital Markets Act, which the EU institutions approved last month. Both come with the threat of heavy fines. But while the DMA seeks to curb the market power of Big Tech companies, the DSA is about making sure platforms remove toxic content quickly.
The law will affect user-generated content sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok.
Brussels has a long history of berating internet giants for abuses of competition and data privacy.
The bloc has imposed combined fines of 8.2 billion euros ($8.8 billion) against Google for antitrust violations and has active investigations into Amazon, Apple and Meta.
In 2018, the EU introduced the General Data Protection Regulation, a broad set of privacy rules intended to give consumers more control over their information.
It comes as lawmakers in Washington wrangle the question of how to rein in the power of Big Tech and get them to clean their platforms of harmful content. On Thursday, former President Barack Obama said the tech industry needs regulation to tackle the spread of disinformation online.
“For too long, tech platforms have unaccountably amplified misinformation and extremism,” former US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted on Thursday.
“I urge our transatlantic allies to push the Digital Services Act through to the end and strengthen global democracy before it’s too late.”
But it is not clear how the EU manages to implement its new rules in practice. Critics say implementing such measures will create technical burdens and raise questions about what speech is or is not acceptable online.
In the UK, new laws designed to tackle unsafe content have been heavily criticized by some in the tech industry, particularly Big Tech platforms, due to a vague description of material being “legal but harmful”.
Critics argue that this could greatly limit freedom of expression online. For its part, the British government said it will not require any statutory freedom of expression to be removed and “democratically important” content will be protected.