Digital Services Act.  How Europe hopes to regulate digital giants

Digital Services Act. How Europe hopes to regulate digital giants

The day after the Hamas attack on Israel, an image relayed on social networks shows Palestinian flags hanging from the windows of a building in Sevran (Seine-Saint-Denis). “Flags in support of Hamas (…) It would be criminal to think that the Jews in France are well protected and that our country will no longer be the victim of terrorist attacks”, reacts, on the X network (ex-Twitter), Noëlle Lenoir , former Minister of European Affairs under Jacques Chirac. However, this photo has nothing to do with October 7, 2023 and is actually from May 2021.

When it comes to false information, no one is safe, not even a former member of the Constitutional Council. Under the influence of emotion, it is easy to get carried away and tap on the screen. Our affects are not the only ones responsible for the profusion of false information. Digital platforms are regularly accused of not being proactive enough in regulating this content.

Long perceived as a lawless and unmanageable Wild West, the Web has been in Europe’s sights for several years. In 2020, the European Commission proposed a regulation on digital services. Adopted by the Parliament and the European Council two years later under the name of the Digital Services Act (DSA), this text aims to reduce the number of deliberately erroneous information as well as child pornography and hateful terrorist content on the Internet. “The DSA represents a turning point in relations between platforms and European states,” explains Romain Badouard, researcher in information and communication sciences at Paris Panthéon-Assas University. “We have long heard that they are as powerful as the latter and it was practically impossible to regulate them. Today, the European Union (EU) is banging its fist on the table and demanding new rules of the game.”

A more civilized Internet

These “new rules of the game” are based on a slogan summarized by Commissioner Thierry Breton: “What is illegal offline must also be illegal online.”

From February 17, Internet service providers, hosts, online commerce platforms, social networks and the main search engines are affected. To arrive at his ends, the Digital Services Act requires these actors to set up a tool allowing Internet users to report illegal content and products (drugs, weapons, etc.). To preserve the secrecy of Internet users’ privacy, it also prohibits advertising targeted to minors and based on religion, political beliefs or sexual preferences. In order to avoid harming innovation and discouraging the Internet start-ups of tomorrow, the obligations are graded according to the size of the firm.

These measures have already applied to the largest platforms since August 25, 2023, but, like the false information flooding X around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the difference is not yet obvious.

Will Europe be able to impose its conditions on the digital behemoths, almost all of them American? “The fact that American companies dominate this market has long complicated the work of legislators, recognizes Romain Badouard. But things have changed. The EU considers that it is the places in which these firms carry out their activity that count.”

In the event of non-compliance with DSA rules, fines of up to 6% of the platforms’ turnover and even a ban on their activities in Europe could be imposed. The EU is also showing itself to be increasingly proactive in terms of sanctions against tech giants. Earlier this year, the European Commission confirmed a fine of 2.4 billion euros imposed on the search engine Google for anti-competitive practices in the price comparison market. And Thierry Breton warns: “if the solutions proposed are not good, we will not hesitate to take energetic measures.”

For better protection

The DSA will be all the more effective as it is part of a strengthening ecosystem of standards. In 2018, the EU had already put in place an innovative text protecting personal data called GDPR for “general data protection regulation”. “The idea is to establish a framework, even if it is imperfect, with the hope that it creates a driving logic,” underlines Laurence Calandri, lecturer at Toulouse Capitole University and specialist in media law. and digital. There is a lot of attention from other legal systems on what is happening in Europe.” The DSA will very quickly be put to the test. From the European elections (from June 6 to 9), since one of the objectives of the text is precisely to avoid foreign interference in the elections.

6% of turnover: maximum fine for platforms circumventing EU rules

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