Bits of Freedom: New DSA is a step in the right direction

At the end of last year, the European Commission presented a draft version of the Digital Services Act (DSA). The European Parliament has been working on the bill over the past year. According to Bits of Freedom, the new version is a step in the right direction to regulate online platforms, but not yet ambitious enough.

New version of the DSA bill ‘a lot better’ than the original

The Digital Services Act (DSA) is a law that aims to better protect European internet users against large technology companies such as Google and Meta. National regulators have been complaining for years about privacy violations of children by online platforms such as TikTok, the use of facial recognition technology by Facebook, and the dangers of the advertising systems of Google and Meta.

To form a fist against the power of international tech companies, the European Commission devised the DSA. At the end of last year, the executive board of the EU unveiled the draft version of the bill. The Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO), an important committee within the European Parliament, has studied the proposal and put various additions on paper.

Bits of Freedom acknowledges that the bill is “a lot better” than the original version, but that there is still room for improvement. Nevertheless, the interest group is pleased with the progress made in the past year. There are all kinds of things in it that curb the power of tech companies.

More openness about recommendation systems

For example, the DSA states that online platforms must offer a follow-me-not option. Companies are then no longer allowed to create and maintain user profiles. While this does not end the provision of personalized advertisements, it does give users the opportunity to say ‘no’ to online profiling. There is a general ban on targeted advertisements for children.

The DSA also obliges tech companies to be open and transparent about the management of their recommendation systems. For example, if you watch a video on YouTube , you will be offered various videos based on your interests. To this end, the video platform collects mountains of information from viewers.

In the current bill, visitors should be given the option to adjust the recommendation system, which must include at least one option that is not based on profiling. Bits of Freedom would have preferred that third parties were allowed on major platforms with their own recommendation system.

No general monitoring obligation

Another point that Bits of Freedom is pleased with is that platforms are not liable for all illegal content on their site. That would mean that tech companies have to scrutinize everyone’s content. “That would be a major violation of our freedom of communication,” said the interest group. Instead, platforms are only liable for illegal content when they have knowledge of it. In other words, there will be no general monitoring obligation.

However, online platforms are allowed to conduct research on their own initiative or take measures to prevent the publication and distribution of illegal content. They must also be able to continue to offer end-to-end encryption.

Users will also have more opportunities to influence if their posts or videos are deleted. That is why the DSA states that platforms must justify their decisions with a legal basis. In addition, there should be options for users to object to the removal of their content.

European Parliament will vote on DSA in early 2022

Finally, tech companies must be more accessible to governments and individual users. They must set up central contact points for this. Furthermore, the terms of use must be written in plain language. This means that platforms must be transparent about what data they collect and what they do with this data.

In January 2022, the European Parliament will vote on the DSA. The parliamentarians will then discuss this with the European Council and the European Commission. “In the coming period, we will make every effort to come up with an even better proposal, with which we will hopefully make an important contribution in the coming years in the fight for a better internet,” writes Lotje Beek, policy advisor at Bits of Freedom.

Update: IMCO has approved the text of the DSA, the European Parliament writes. 36 of the 45 committee members agreed with the drafting of the bill. Seven members voted against and two abstained.

“We are democratically demanding our online environment. The DSA is bringing the EU technology regulation into the 21st century, and it’s about time,” said Danish rapporteur Christel Schaldemose. “Instead of platforms dictating the rules, the DSA determines how to deal with illegal content and moderate content,” said committee chair Anna Cavazzini.

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