Amazon, Bing, Wikipedia make EU's list of 'Very Large' platforms
Will need to sit at the front of the class where Commish can keep an eye on them
Not to be outdone by the UK's copycat DMCC bill yesterday, European regulators have let the world know about the first few tech giants to make their super strictly monitored hitlist under its own antitrust regs, aimed at curtailing the power of Big Tech.
In an announcement, the European Commission unveiled the first few companies designated as Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) and Very Large Online Search Engines (VLOSEs) under its e-commerce law, the Digital Services Act (DSA).
The VLOPs listed include many of the usual suspects, although Wikipedia was something of a surprise – its transparency reports will be an interesting read – and who knew online retailer Zalando was that big?
The Commission said it was "bolstering its expertise with in-house and external multidisciplinary knowledge" including the recently launched European Centre for Algorithmic Transparency – among other things companies on the list will need to look at how algorithm use affect their interfaces and "recommender systems", with the EC especially interested in the latter. It has also asked the the platforms to allow better "data access" for researchers so they can assess systemic risks and create a "publicly available repository of advertisements."
As we explained last week, the companies must detail how their algorithms work, and be transparent about how their software allows advertisers to target users or recommend content. The new rules are expected to apply from January 1, 2024.
Europe doesn't just pass laws on Big Tech algorithms, it sets up cop shops to police themREAD MORE
There's a full list in the box, but the VLOSEs are a mere two: Google (which had a 93 percent share last time we checked) and (quiet at the back) Bing. If you go by Statcounter's numbers, Microsoft's search engine has only 2.88 percent of the market (down from 3.1 percent in March 2022), but that's still the second biggest search engine in the world. Moreover, it reaches at least 45 million monthly active users established in or located in the EU – that was the metric the Commission used for everybody on the list, VLOSEs and VLOPs alike.
Microsoft's Bing search engine actually passed the 100 million daily active users milestone not long after launching its AI-powered Bing Chat feature, which it said was drawing in new users, although it was "fully aware we remain a small, low, single digit share player." Good old DuckDuckGo didn't get a look-in.
Following their designation, companies on these lists will have to comply – within four months – with the full set of new obligations under the DSA. These include watching out for systemic risks ranging from how illegal content and disinformation can be amplified on their services, to protection of minors online and their mental health. They will also be expected to have plain language Ts&Cs, and give users "clear information on why they are recommended certain information." Users must also be able to "opt out from recommendation systems based on profiling" and the services must label all ads and inform users on who is promoting them.
Their first annual risk assessment reports need to be submitted to the Commission by the end of August.
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The list does not appear to be complete: VLOPS and VLOSEs aren't the full extent of the "gatekeepers" – the EU's designations for the massive systemic players which eat up the internet and touch almost everyone with a computer across the globe, no matter how hard they are trying to run open source OSes on homegrown hardware.
If you'd noticed that none of the cloud platforms were listed (Azure, GCP, AWS), that's because they'll be dealt with by the DSA's "sister legislation", the Digital Markets Act (DMA). The DMA will take aim at "core platform services" – including cloud gatekeepers – potentially doling out hefty fines or even requiring companies to offload assets or cease operating within EU borders. This can be a powerful tool, especially when one considers the situation Apple got into when it was last year forced to ditch its Lightning port or be forced to lose the $95.12 billion the European single market is worth to Apple.
Margrethe Vestager, exec vice-president for EC Digital, commented: "The whole logic of our rules is to ensure that technology serves people and the societies that we live in – not the other way around. The Digital Services Act will bring about meaningful transparency and accountability of platforms and search engines and give consumers more control over their online life. The designations made today are a huge step forward to making that happen." ®