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30th Sep 2022

MEPs adopt new digital 'rule book', amid surveillance doubts

  • The two bills were approved with the support of the majority of MEPs — with EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton dubbing the 'landslide' vote as 'historic' (Photo: mw238)
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The European Parliament on Tuesday (5 July) gave the final green light to two flagship policies aimed at enacting consumer rights and transparency of online platforms — following a compromise reached with the European Council earlier this year.

"No other jurisdiction in the world has taken the courage and the action to go for a combination of laws about fairness in markets, online services and products, and responsibility of online platforms," German MEP Andreas Schwab, lead lawmaker on this file, told a press conference after the vote.

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The Digital Services Act (DSA) will regulate illegal content online, setting out transparency and consumer-protections obligations for online players. While the Digital Markets Act (DMA) prohibits anti-competitive behaviours by internet providers acting as "gatekeepers".

The two bills were approved with the support of the majority of MEPs — with EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton dubbing the "landslide" vote as "historic".

The DSA was adopted with 539 votes in favour, 54 votes against and 30 abstentions, while the DMA was adopted with 588 in favour, 11 votes against and 31 abstentions.

When the two legislative proposals were announced back in 2020, the European Commission said new rules would help to bring an end to decades of online 'Wild West' in which tech giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter created their own rules.

Danish socialist MEP Christel Schaldemose, who has also been leading the parliament's work on this file, said new rules will open up a black box of algorithms and allow authorities to monitor "the money-making machines behind these social platforms."

But experts, digital advocates, and human rights defenders remain cautious over the outcome of the year-long negotiations.

"The approved text fails to ensure complete regulation over some of the most harmful practices online," said the Brussels-based European Digital Rights (EDRi) group.

Echoing the same message, some MEPs said that rules will fail to address tech companies' abusive surveillance and profiling practices.

"We tried to make the Digital Services Act a game-changer and overcome the surveillance capitalist business model of pervasive tracking online but failed," said Green MEP Patrick Breyer from the German Pirate Party.

The rules, he said, fail to provide an alternative to "toxic platform algorithms" and protect legal content from being blocked by error-prone upload filters.

The DSA and the DMA have faced intense corporate lobbying in key aspects of the legislation such as 'surveillance advertising' — the key business model of big online players.

Once formally adopted also by EU member states, the DSA will enter into force in 2024. Under the DMA, big tech giants will have up to six months to comply with the new obligations, after they have been designated by the commission as so-called gatekeepers.

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