Europe wants to get a better grip on big internet companies like Google and Meta (owner of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, among others). The European Parliament has now agreed on two laws to make this happen. What are we going to experience from this?
Two European laws must set limits to the power of these companies and impose responsibilities on them. They are the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and the Digital Services Act (DSA). The first passed through the European Parliament in December, the second in January.
This means that it is now largely clear what the DMA and DSA will look like. But the texts are not yet final. Negotiations are still needed with the Council of the European Union. The 27 EU member states are represented in this Council.
Only when these negotiations are completed, the same rules apply throughout the European Union. In this article, we explain what the European Parliament has agreed to, and what is in the law for the time being.
What are the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and the Digital Services Act (DSA) that the EU has planned?
This is now in the Digital Markets Act
The Digital Markets Act will probably focus on ten to fifteen of the largest Internet companies. Platforms that reach at least 45 million people in Europe and have at least ten thousand business customers will be covered by the Act. Here’s what you may start to notice:
- Messaging services of tech giants must open up their app to other chat apps. For example, it should become possible for a WhatsApp user to chat with a Signal user.
- You should be able to remove all apps that are pre-installed on a smartphone or computer, unless doing so causes the device to stop working as intended (which is the case, for example, with the app for making calls on your phone).
Also, the law should protect you when purchasing products or services on major platforms:
- Platforms such as Booking.com, the Amazon online store, and Apple’s App Store are not allowed to block companies operating there from selling a hotel room, product, or app on other platforms (more cheaply).
- Companies may not use misleading design, for example to entice you to buy (“Only 3 rooms left”).
- Internet giants are not allowed to prioritize their own products or services on their own platforms. So Apple is not allowed to simply place its own apps higher in the App Store. And Amazon and Google are not allowed to give their own products more prominence in their web store or search engine.
In addition, the DMA must better guarantee your privacy:
- Companies that collect personal data about you on multiple platforms (such as Meta on Facebook and Instagram) are only allowed to combine that data if you explicitly give permission.
- Personal data from minors may not be used commercially at all, such as for marketing or personalized ads.
Finally, the DMA requires tech giants to notify the European Commission of plans to acquire other internet companies. In this way, Brussels wants to prevent takeovers if they could be detrimental to citizens, or if they are only intended to stifle competition.
Companies that do not comply with the DMA can be fined from 4 to 20 percent of their worldwide annual turnover.
And this is what the Digital Services Act now says
The DSA is not only aimed at the giants, but also at smaller Internet companies. However, very large online platforms – companies that reach 45 million people in Europe – also have additional responsibilities under this law.
Something you should quickly notice in everyday internet use from the DSA is a change in the way sites ask your permission to place cookies.
Often those notifications have a big, green button for “Agree. This is next to a less prominent button, with complicated menus behind it, for when you’d rather the site not place files that monitor your surfing habits. The new law must curb these kinds of practices.
In addition, the DSA must prevent the online distribution of undesirable content:
- Internet platforms must act against what is illegal, such as hate speech, but also copyright infringement or illegal trade.
- The DSA does not define exactly what is illegal: that is laid down in national laws or other regulations that apply to the entire European Union.
- Companies must make the illegal messages inaccessible or remove them as soon as they become aware of them. In doing so, they face the difficult task of continuing to guarantee freedom of expression. If you feel that your post has been unjustly removed, you should be able to object to it.
- The Internet companies can get help from agencies that are experts in certain illegal activities, such as the police or organizations that are not connected to the government but do serve a social interest. This should ensure that illegal messages disappear more quickly.
The law also requires transparency from the companies:
- Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter must make it clear that they use algorithms. They also have to explain what influence these have on the news feed or timeline of users.
- Companies like Meta and Google, when showing ads, must make it clear which party is behind them and why the visitor is seeing them. Visitors should also have the option not to be served personalized ads.
Each EU member state will have a regulator who will monitor the DSA. The European Commission will also continue to keep an eye on things, especially the very large online platforms.
The Internet giants are so big that their existence also entails risks, is the thinking. For example, because their choices can limit freedom of expression or the right to privacy, or because illegal messages can have a very wide reach.
Companies that violate the DSA can be fined up to 6 percent of their global annual turnover by the European Commission.