EU agrees on Internet rulebook for Google, Facebook, other tech giants

The EU's Digital Services Act seeks to rein in Alphabet unit Google, Meta and other US tech giants. PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (AFP, REUTERS) - European Union countries and EU lawmakers on Saturday (April 23) clinched a deal on new rules requiring tech giants to do more to police illegal content on their platforms and to pay a fee to regulators monitoring their compliance.

The agreement came after more than 16 hours of negotiations.

The Digital Services Act (DSA) is the second prong of EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager's strategy to rein in Alphabet unit Google, Meta and other US tech giants.

"We have a deal on the DSA: The Digital Services Act will make sure that what is illegal offline is also seen and dealt with as illegal online - not as a slogan, as reality," Vestager said in a tweet.

“With the DSA, the time of big online platforms behaving like they are ‘too big to care’ is coming to an end. A major milestone for EU citizens,” said European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton, who has previously described the Internet as the “Wild West”.

“Today’s agreement on DSA is historic,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen tweeted.

“Our new rules will protect users online, ensure freedom of expression and opportunities for businesses. What is illegal offline will effectively be illegal online in the EU.”

Under the DSA, the companies face fines up to 6 per cent of their global turnover for violating the rules while repeated breaches could see them banned from doing business in the EU.

The new rules ban targeted advertising aimed at children or based on sensitive data such as religion, gender, race and political opinions. Dark patterns, which are tactics that mislead people into giving personal data to companies online, will also be prohibited.

The companies also face a yearly fee up to 0.05 per cent of worldwide annual revenue to cover the costs of monitoring their compliance.

The regulation is the companion to the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which targeted anti-competitive practices among tech behemoths such as Google and Facebook and was concluded in late March.

The legislation had faced lobbying from the tech companies and intense debate over the extent of freedom of speech.

Tech giants have been repeatedly called out for failing to police their platforms – a New Zealand terrorist attack that was live-streamed on Facebook in 2019 caused global outrage, and the chaotic insurrection in the US last year was promoted online.

The dark side of the Internet also includes e-commerce platforms filled with counterfeit or defective products.

The DSA will force e-commerce sites to verify the identity of suppliers before proposing their products.

While many of the DSA’s stipulations cover all companies, it lays out special obligations for “very large platforms”, defined as those with more than 45 million active users in the European Union.

The list of companies has not yet been released but will include giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, as well as Twitter and probably the likes of TikTok, Zalando and Booking.com.

These players will be obliged to assess the risks associated with the use of their services and remove illegal content.

They will also be required to be more transparent about their data and algorithms.

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen caused a huge stir last year when she accused her former bosses of prioritising profits over the welfare of users.

She hailed in November the “enormous potential” of the European regulation project, which could become a “reference” for other countries, including the United States.

However, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) fears the text does not go far enough.

It wants a ban on all advertising based on the surveillance of Internet users, and random checks on online vendors’ products.

The DSA will be enforced in 2024.

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