Digital Brief powered by Facebook: TTC priorities, common charger, country of origin row

The Digital Brief is EURACTIV's weekly tech newsletter.

Welcome to EURACTIV’s Digital Brief, your weekly update on all things digital in the EU. You can subscribe to the newsletter here

 

“The EU and the US acknowledge the need for controls on trade in certain dual-use items, in particular certain cyber-surveillance technologies, in order to prevent their misuse in ways which might lead to serious violations of human rights or international humanitarian law.”

-Trade and Technology Council draft joint statement

 

Story of the week: The EU-US Trade and Technology Council (TTC) will seek convergence on a number of key areas, including foreign investment, export control, AI and semiconductors, according to a joint statement, EURACTIV leaked this week. The TTC’s first meeting was confirmed for next Wednesday (29 September), despite calls from France to postpone following the controversial AUKUS deal that saw the EU country forced out of an important defence contract. According to the statement, the two blocs will work together on the issue of foreign takeovers, aimed mainly at preventing China from acquiring strategic companies. The EU and US are also committing to coordinate in relation to the transfer of dual-use technology, “in particular certain cyber-surveillance technologies,” a (not so subtle) allusion to the Pegasus scandal. The transatlantic partners will also convene to converge on common principles for artificial intelligence and to fill each others’ gaps in the semiconductor value chain. At the EU’s request, one area that won’t be on the table is negotiation over a privacy agreement for international data transfers. Read more.

 

Don’t miss: The European Commission has presented its plan to introduce a single charger that can be used with all smartphones, tablets, headphones, cameras and other devices. For the EU executive, the common model introduced within two years will help increase convenience for consumers and reduce e-waste. The proposal has been in gestation for a very long time as in 2009, the Commission brokered an agreement among the main device manufacturers. Although the industry agreement managed to reduce the type of chargers from 30 to three, it failed to reach a consensus on a universal solution, which prompted the European Parliament to call for a binding action. Apple, a big opponent of the move, argues that the provisions will constrain obligations and generate e-waste as it considers the 24 month implementation period too short. The iPhone-maker is also concerned about the so-called grandfathering, namely if it will be allowed to sell already existing products with the old charging solution. Read more.

 

Also, this week:

  • The arm wrestle on the country of origin principle in the DSA heats up as Ireland leads a counter-initiative.
  • UK presents its national strategy on AI and plans for a White Paper to be released next year.
  • France keeps on raising the bar for its digital ambitions.
  • Italy launches a national hub to fight disinformation.

 

Before we start: German elections are finally upon us. As the EU largest economy heads to the first polls of the post-Markel era, EURACTIV’s correspondent in Germany Oliver Noyan helps us decode the positions of the main German parties in relation to key digital issues: digital sovereignty, competition policy, content moderation, data retention, biometric recognition. Will the new German government change its current approach to digital policy? Listen to the podcast for more.

Germany’s digital prospects

German elections are eventually upon us. As the EU largest economy heads to the first polls of the post-Markel era, EURACTIV’s correspondent in Germany Oliver Noyan helps us decode the positions of the main German parties in relation to key digital issues.

 

A message by Facebook

Research is happening with Facebook.

Facebook’s Data For Good programme uses privacy-protected data to address some of the world’s greatest social issues. Cornelius Fritz, a statistician at LMU München analyses aggregated data from approximately 10 million Facebook users to forecast the number of COVID-19 cases at a local level in Germany. Find out more.

 

Artificial Intelligence

AI agenda. The UK government will publish a White Paper on AI early next year. The Office for AI will use the paper to set out the potential risks and harms of AI technologies, as well as the national position on their governance and regulation. According to its  National AI Strategy, published this month, the UK is already a “global AI superpower”. It lays out plans to assume international leadership in the area over the coming decade.

Copyright

Italian antitrust bashes draft law.  The Italian antitrust authority (AGCM) is taking aim at the law proposal for the transposition of the Copyright Directive. There are three main concerns raised. One of the key issues is the value attributed to the content provided to online platforms, as the criteria used to estimate it in the current text include the market value of the publication and how long it has been running and the number of journalists. For AGCM, these criteria bear little relevance for the monetisation of online content, in itself very difficult to assess, and would inevitably favour large and long-established publishers. Another contested part of the draft law is the binding arbitration mechanism, similar to the Australian model. Publishers and platforms are obliged to negotiate, and if the negotiations fail, they will have to submit their final offer to the telecoms autority that will make a binding decision. The AGCM considers these rules “unduly limit the negotiation autonomy.” Small publishers, in particular, might not have an interest in entering negotiations with the online platforms. The final point regards the provisions on exceptions for the retribution of snippets, the small abstract online platforms provide of an article. While the Copyright Directive establishes the principle of snippets, it also includes an exception to the general rule, which is not sufficiently defined in the current version of the law, according to AGCM.

Cybersecurity

Backdoor discovered. Cisco’s commercial threat intelligence team Talos revealed this week that it has discovered a previously unidentified backdoor targeting the Afghan government in the lead up to the withdrawal of Western forces in August. Talos is moderately confident that it belonged to Russian hacking group Turla, and has identified the same spyware in the US and Germany. Read more.

Cyber-censure. Tensions rose between Lithuania and China this week after the former’s Defence Ministry advised consumers to avoid buying Chinese mobile phones and throw away any they already owned as quickly as possible. The advice was based on a government report that found the devices have in-built detection and censorship functions. While these are currently turned off for the EU, they could reportedly be remotely switched back on at any time. China’s Xiaomi Corp pushed back, denying that its devices censored users’ communications and insisting that it respected and protected their legal and data rights.

“Under-resourced and over-tasked”. Ireland’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has come under fire in a new report which claims it is falling far short of its international counterparts. It warns that pressure is only set to increase as the EU implements new cybersecurity measures. Ireland is still recovering from a massive ransomware attack that brought its health service to a standstill earlier this year. Read more.

Resilient in reality? Cyberattacks accelerated in 2021, with 79% of European companies being negatively affected at least once, demonstrating an increase from the previous year, according to FTI Consulting’s annual 2021 Resilience Barometer. Data collected from 430 decision-makers in four EU countries also found that over two-thirds of respondents don’t fully understand the cyber risk that third-party vendors pose. Only 32% view third-party risk as a pressing concern.

Data & privacy

What’s the story? The data protection bodies of both Ireland and Italy have raised concerns over the new Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses, which are enabled with Facebook View technology and can capture audio and video recordings. Italy’s watchdog met with representatives from Facebook and Luxottica this week, and authorities in both countries continue to probe whether the devices are compliant with privacy legislation. The main concern is that people might be recorded without being made aware, which would make it impossible to get their consent. To make the recording of images obvious, the smart glasses will include a LED indicator light. Facebook will need to prove it is a suitable solution and inform the public about it.

Digital rights

Devices for decades The Restart Project launched its #10YearPhone campaign on Thursday, with the objective of promoting longer-lasting and more easily repairable products. The campaign aims to address the environmental and social costs of frequently replacing devices and calls for Europeans to have the right to use their phones for at least ten years. Just two days before, Vice leaked training videos from Apple which suggested the company instructed its staff to discourage third-party repairs.

Disinformation

EDMO expands. Italy launched a national hub to fight disinformation this week, part of a network of eight European hubs under the European Digital Media Observatory. The Italian Digital Media Observatory, based at the University LUISS of Rome, will gather fact-checkers, media practitioners and researchers to study and tackle disinformation online. Read more.

No ads for you. According to a memo seen by the FT, the European Commission is considering a ban on micro-targeting for political actors. The reporting says that the rules would only apply to European parties, but the Commission would encourage EU countries to adopt similar regulations.

DMA

Legal basis, yes or no? Germany has made another push to add merger control measures in the DMA this week, publishing a legal opinion that such provisions do not require a change of legal basis for the legislative proposal. Changing the legal basis would require a unanimous vote, which would almost certainly not get through as other countries such as Belgium (as well as the European Commission) oppose the move.

DSA

Origin or destination? As anticipated last week, the French push to move the enforcement and supervision of the obligations under the DSA from the country of establishment to the country of destination did not take too long to materialise. However, several countries have reacted in favour of the so-called ‘country of origin’ principle, established in the e-Commerce Directive. The coalition of countries is led by Ireland and includes Croatia, Czechia, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Sweden. According to the non-paper, seen by EURACTIV, the French proposals risks undermining legal certainty for businesses that operate in the digital single market. “Any erosion of this principle is a red line for Ireland,” an EU source told EURACTIV.

Tackling content. Ministers from Denmark and Germany have published on EURACTIV an exclusive op-ed for fundamental change in Europe’s digital landscape. The ministers urge that disagreements within the EU over the upcoming Digital Service Act’s provisions be resolved as soon as possible and amended to include greater responsibility for platforms when it comes to matters such as preventing illegal activity and ensuring sellers’ legal compliance. The two governments advocate giving national authorities effective powers to remove illegal content and unsafe products, giving platforms specific deadlines.

Algorithmic oversight. 50 organisations have penned a letter to the European Parliament’s consumer protection committee calling for effective oversight of the algorithms used by large online platforms to be included in the upcoming DSA. Among the measures asked for by the signatories is the disclosure of crucial information about algorithms to users, expanded access to the data needed to monitor algorithms and independent audits, amongst others.

About the ads. Google is rolling out new “advertiser pages” to enhance the transparency of advertisements on the platform via increased disclosures. Users will learn more about specific advertisers and more easily report ads they believe violate the platform’s policies. Advertising has become an area of growing concern regarding tech regulation, demonstrated in the EU by focusing on transparency that has emerged in negotiations surrounding the upcoming DSA.

Incestuous relations? Campaign group SumOfUs urged the Commission not to ‘get in bed with Big Tech’. The initiative followed revelations from a few weeks ago of unprecedented lobbying spending from Big Tech companies, which also seem to have been able to access EU officials more easily than civil society organisations.

Industrial strategy

France’s digital dreams. France has set out its plans for tech sector dominance at the 10th instalment of France Digital Day. Digital Minister Cédric O detailed the country’s vision to attendees and called for more large venture capital funds in Europe to fuel the early-stage financing of start-ups. To ensure long-term success, however, attention to the jobs side of the French tech industry is vital. Read more.

From Horizon to the market. The European Factories of the Future Research Association (EFFRA), the organisation that leads on the Horizon funding for the manufacturing industry, is joining forces with EIT Manufacturing. This organisation follows up on Horizon projects to make sure their outcomes reach the market. The agreement is intended to accelerate the market deployment of industrial applications coming out of Horizon projects.

Room to grow. According to the country’s president, tech companies in Estonia have been able to thrive thanks to the lack of large multinationals such as Facebook and Microsoft. Few tech giants are located or employ much staff in Estonia, which President Kersti Kaljulaid credits with facilitating the growth of so many start-ups and unicorns and the emergence of major names in tech.

Cloud constraints. France’s new “cloud at the centre” doctrine, which was announced earlier this year and sought to expand the use of the cloud as a means of accelerating the country’s digital transformation, has led the intermenstrual digital director of the State to prevent ministries from making the switch to Microsoft’s Office 365 services.

Media

Media money. The Commission’s new media equity fund, Media Invest, will launch by the end of the year. The fund is intended to help fund the audio-visual sector’s pandemic recovery and has an estimated budget of €400m over seven years. The Commission’s head of unit for the audio-visual industry and media support programmes also suggested creating a media data space under the Digital Europe Programme to facilitate collaboration and sharing audience content and metadata.

Not an option. Six months on from a law requiring tech giants to pay publishers for news content, Facebook has informed Australian publishers that it is no longer negotiating licensing deals. The law passed earlier this year gave the government the power to set fees for platforms’ use of content if negotiations with publishers fail. Still, many smaller outlets have found themselves unable to gain a foothold in the system.

Platforms

Shed light on black boxes. Google and Apple have come under scrutiny over their dominance on the app store market, as the debate over app fairness gathers pace in European tech. With the DMA looming large, greater attention is being paid to the outsized status of some actors, and smaller developers are increasingly pushing back at what they describe as monopolistic behaviour. The issue was prominent at last week’s France Digitale Day. A discussion between Proton CEO Andy Yen and Match Group VP Mark Buse saw app stores described as “black boxes without transparency” and calls issued for a ban on the pre-installation of apps. Read more.

Ad antagonism. Changes to Apple’s privacy terms are disrupting Facebook’s ad business, so much so that it has issued a warning about the impact outside of normal financial reporting procedures, an unusual move for the company. The two tech giants have been butting heads over the alterations, which Facebook sees as an attempt by Apple to gain a market advantage on the profitable ad market.

Reputation rethink. Facebook has shifted gears regarding image protection, moving away from repeated apologies as criticism of the platform accelerates on many fronts. Instead, the company is now taking a more defensive approach to internal data and a more proactive one to enhance its reputation and that of its founder, Mark Zuckerberg.

Let’s settle this. Google has reportedly proposed a settlement to the European Commission in an ongoing antitrust investigation that it’s currently subject to. The case, opened in June, looks at whether Google prioritises its own online display ad technology services, disadvantaging rivals, advertisers and online publishers. The company has been on the receiving end of several EU antitrust cases, which have cost the company billions of euros in penalties; however, whether the Commission will be willing to accept the pay-out remains to be seen.

Telecom

Speed discrepancies. Average internet speeds in Europe have increased significantly in the past 18 months but still vary significantly between countries. In fact, despite the average gains, the gap between the EU countries with the highest and lowest download speeds had increased by almost 60%. The data also shows major regional inequality within countries, with Germany and Italy, are singled out as particularly notable examples in this respect. Telecom trade association ETNO notes that while the upgrade of networks is undergoing, the pace is limited by the low volume of investments that should be complemented by public subsidies.

Network expansion. Vodafone and the UN’s specialised agency for information and communication technologies (ITU) have launched a new initiative to tackle the global digital divide by expanding internet access and use to an additional 3.4 billion people by 2030. The partnership will address the mobile usage and network coverage gaps between high, and low-and middle-income countries.

5G disinformation. ETNO and GSMA have released a new guide designed to outline the social and economic benefits of 5G to local communities. 5G-related disinformation has grown since the onset of the pandemic and has led to a significant number of attacks against Telecoms infrastructure and workers in Europe. The guide aims to address this by providing factual information on 5G and concrete examples of the technology’s use.

On our radar:

The coming week will be an interesting one on several fronts. On Monday, the IMCO Committee will discuss some 3,500 DSA and DMA amendments. Additionally, the EDPB will publish its opinion on the adequacy decision on South Korea and discussions on the complaints by NYOB on the issue of cookies and dark patterns. The Competitiveness Council is taking place on Tuesday for research and on Wednesday for competition. COREPER is due to rubber-stamp the general approach on the Data Governance Act on Friday.

What else we’re reading this week:

Silicon Valley’s quest to live forever could benefit humanity as a whole — here’s why (CNBC)

2021 has broken the record for zero-day hacking attacks (MIT Technology Review)

 

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe