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Monday, December 11, 2023

Big tech companies will soon be asked to bare their algorithms or get out of the EU

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The EU will likely never cease its rampage against big tech and the hold these companies—Google, Meta, Amazon, and others—have on their users’ data. Its latest effort is the new Digital Services Act (DSA) that looks to open up these companies and their practices, help protect EU users online, and prevent the spread of illegal and harmful content.

The EU breaks down the DSA into a few key areas of improvement and legislation. These include:

  • New measures to counter illegal goods, services, or content online through a new flagging system and obligations to trace business users in online marketplaces. Essentially, if you’re up to no good, you should be fairly traceable.
  • New measures to empower users and ‘civil society’. This includes the loose concept of out-of-court dispute resolution for content moderation (don’t get any ideas, PC Gamer comments section), access to key data from the largest platforms for vetted researchers, and even transparency on the algorithms used for recommending content to users.
  • New measures to mitigate risk, meaning large platforms and search engines will be required to prevent the misuse of their systems with regular independent audits, efficiently react to crises, and protections for minors online. That last bit includes a limit on how platforms can advertise to minors with targeted ads or use of sensitive data.
  • Enhanced supervision of the largest online platforms. Probably you, Google and Meta.

It sure sounds like a lot of changes for the current operation of the internet in the EU, and there’s definitely going to need to be some major infrastructure changes to manage it all.

“The DSA will upgrade the ground-rules for all online services in the EU. It will ensure that the online environment remains a safe space, safeguarding freedom of expression and opportunities for digital businesses. It gives practical effect to the principle that what is illegal offline, should be illegal online,” says Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president in a press release (via The Verge).

“The greater the size, the greater the responsibilities of online platforms.”

The biggest challenge for the DSA will be in getting these major companies to comply fully and with open arms. For the likes of Meta and Google, their algorithms are money printing machines and closely-guarded secrets. I can’t imagine they’ll be all too happy about showing them off in public.

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Though if these companies hope to continue operating in the EU, they’re going to be forced to comply with the rules of its member states. The DSA still requires formal approval, but once that’s in companies will need to be compliant in the fifteen months following its formal approval or January 1, 2024. However, the EU says that the DSA will apply to very large online platforms and search engines from an earlier date than even that.

Another big change for the internet is on the way, then, and the repercussions of this EU legislation could spell changes for the UK, US, and other parts of the world, too. Some companies will prefer to play it safe with a universal policy for all parts of the world, though as with other EU rules changes, it could also mean some companies decide to pull out of the EU altogether.

Another big change to the laws of the internet in the EU was the enforcement of cookie consent. Google is still struggling to get to terms with those rules, despite them being in place for a few years now—the tech giant was recently fined €150 million Euros for breaching French law with its cookie popup. Google is now rolling out a new popup.  

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