Facebook whistleblower boosts EU push for new tech laws

Former Facebook engineer Frances Haugen leaked a trove of internal documents that have sparked weeks of criticism of the social media giant. PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen urged the EU to remain steadfast against big tech on Monday (Nov 8), boosting European efforts for new laws against US giants.

The former Facebook engineer leaked a trove of internal documents that have sparked weeks of criticism of the social media giant.

She met with key lawmakers in Brussels responsible for pushing through major legislation that could force the world's biggest tech firms to rethink the way they do business.

The laws are currently snaking their way through European Parliament and meetings of EU member states with hopes that they can be finalised when France takes over the presidency of the bloc, between January 1 and June 30 next year.

Backers of the laws hope Haugen's visit will jump-start a process that has become bogged down in details and a lobbying frenzy by the tech industry.

The increased lobbying efforts by large tech firms "are in vain", said EU commissioner Thierry Breton after meeting Haugen.

He thanked her for her "tireless dedication" in revealing an insider's view of Facebook decisions.

The EU's effort at a regulatory revolution has been split into two laws - the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and the Digital Services Act (DSA).

Breton said they needed to be passed quickly.

"We need the DSA/DMA package adopted in the first half of 2022. We also need to remain extremely ambitious in our response," said Breton.

The DMA will set up a strict list of do's and don'ts for the tech giants, while the DSA will put illegal content on platforms under much stricter control.

The toughest wrangling has been over the fate of targeted ads, as well as which tech companies would fall under the laws' toughest rules.

Facebook has said Haugen's allegations distort reality and described her as a mid-level engineer with limited access to important decisions.

Slovenia, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, is hoping the bloc's 27 member states will clinch a common position on both laws at a meeting on Nov 25.

The European Parliament would like its texts voted by January at the latest. Negotiators would then attempt to blend both versions in the six months of France's presidency of the EU.

German MEP Anna Cavazzini told AFP that Haugen's testimony would allow Parliament to make "informed decisions".

Facebook is "still a black box" whose inner workings are shielded from regular scrutiny, she said.

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