Europe's tough new rules for Big Tech start today. Is anyone ready?
Google says it is. Amazon's swerves the rules, for now. And tests suggest consumer protections aren't yet strong
The European Union’s Digital Services Act comes into effect today, August 25, and it’s unclear if the hoped-for consumer protections are going to have their desired impact.
The Act (DSA) sets rules that the EU designed to make very large online platforms (VLOPs) "tackle the spread of illegal content, online disinformation and other societal risks" presented by online service providers."
The DSA and the Digital Market Act (DMA) are a double act. Both were introduced in 2022 and will be implemented in phases through early 2024. While the DMA applies to companies who act as gatekeepers of online services and are designed to ensure equal access for some third-party software, the DSA is all about ensuring that activities which are illegal in the real world are enforceably illegal online, too.
Under the DSA digital service providers - including hosting services, online platforms, VLOPs and even intermediary service providers like ISPs - have obligations to ensure that products sold are safe and not counterfeit, and to eliminate advertising that targets minors or is served using sensitive data. Another requirement is to get rid of dark patterns in advertising. Clarity on how orgs moderate content and a requirement to present their algorithms for scrutiny is also required.
VLOPs, which the DSA defines as platforms large enough to reach 10 percent of the EU's population, or around 45 million people, have even more rules to comply with.
The EU believes that VLOPs present the most risk to the public due to their wide reach. In addition to rules that other digital service providers have to follow, VLOPs also have to share data with "vetted" researchers and governments, allow users to opt out of profiling recommendations, submit to regular audits, and have risk management and a crisis response plans in place.
The EU made its initial declaration to cover 17 VLOPs and two very large online search engines (Bing and Google) on April 25. The DSA will apply to any and all digital service providers come February 2024. VLOPs were told they had four months from the day they were designated to achieve compliance.
Non-compliant VLOPs could face fines of up to six percent of global turnover, rather than the relatively small fines they usually face. The EC said it also has the power to require immediate platform changes and, in the case of continued noncompliance, has the right to suspend offenders from the trading bloc entirely.
Ready, set, go?
Will the DSA make a difference? Reuters reports stress tests of the DSA compliance have been conducted at Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and Snapchat, to consider whether the platforms could "detect, address and mitigate systemic risks, such as disinformation."
An EC spokesperson told the newswire that improvements are needed
Additionally, two VLOPs are fighting their designation: Amazon and German fashion retailer Zalando. The two orgs claim that as retailers, they shouldn't be considered in the same category as Facebook, Pinterest, and Wikipedia.
Both cases are ongoing, raising questions about how well the DSA can be enforced if some VLOPs are already being given exceptions.
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Amazon told The Register that it has already won a concession from the EU, which allowed it not to comply with DSA requirements that VLOPs maintain a repository of ads they've served, along with information on how they were displayed and targeted.
Amazon, we remind readers, may make most of its money by selling stuff, but its advertising arm made it $10.7 billion (£8.5 billion) in Q2 2023 [PDF], and is growing at more than 20 percent year-over-year.
Google and Meta, however, want everyone to know it is ready to comply, thank you very much.
Earlier this week Meta detailed its compliance efforts, which include tools for researchers and "information about how our AI systems rank content for Feed, Reels, Stories, and other surfaces; some of the predictions each system makes to determine what content might be most relevant to people; and the options available to help customise an experience on Facebook and Instagram."
In a Thursday blog post Google’s veep for trust & safety Laurie Richardson, and YouTube product management veep Jennifer Flannery O'Connor, outlined initiatives their respective outfits have taken to ensure compliance.
Among those actions are an expansion of the Big G’s Ads Transparency Center, plus access to Google data for researchers. It's unclear whether those changes will be available outside the EU. We asked Google but haven't heard back.
The Transparency Center will let users find information about its policies, reporting and appeals tools, and transparency reports. These reports are also being expanded to add information about how Google handles content moderation.
We asked the European Commission to ask whether it feels Google's promises are were enough, we'll update if there's a reply. ®