Digital Brief powered by Google: DGA adopted, AI Act moves ahead

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

 

“Our goal with the DGA was to set the foundation for a data economy people and businesses can trust in. Only if trust and fairness are guaranteed, data sharing can flourish to its fullest potential and stimulate new business models and social innovation”

-Angelika Niebler, European Parliament’s rapporteur for the Data Governance Act

Story of the week: DGA moves forward. EU legislators have reached a final agreement compromise on the Data Governance Act (DGA), the first legislative initiative of the European Data Strategy. The new legislation will introduce rules for trading data and establish a governance structure for the European data spaces. A key role in the data marketplaces will be played by data intermediaries, which will have to comply with specific obligations to ensure fair access to industrial data. The DGA also includes anti-bundling measures forcing providers of for-provide data intermediation services to keep them commercially separate for other services, notably cloud services.

Data altruist organisations have also been introduced, to give legal status to those organisations that exchange data for the public good, for instance, research on climate change or medicine. A Data Innovation Board will be established, including members of academic, research, industry and civil society. The Board will work on common technical solutions for standards and interoperability and will advise the Commission on technical requirements for data exchanges and storage.

The most controversial chapter of the deal was probably the access to public sector data, which will need to safeguard personal data protection and intellectual property rights. These safeguards will also need to be in place when exchanging data with organisations based in third countries. Following the GDPR model, the Commission will adopt adequacy decisions for international data transfers with specific countries. Read more.

 

Don’t miss: The Slovenian presidency circulated a compromise text on the draft AI Act this week, proposing significant changes to the text. In terms of scope, any AI system for military use has been excluded, restating the principle that national security is an exclusive competency of member states.

The presidency proposed extending the ban on social scoring to private entities and expanded the definition of prohibited use also to exploit social and economic conditions. These measures combined might have a significant impact on the financial sector. There also seems to be a contradiction in the text, as the estimation of insurance premiums was added under high-risk applications.

On biometric recognition, the adjective ‘remote’ was deleted as it was considered too difficult to define. The example used during the discussion was that a policeman wearing a bodycam could not be classified as remote identification. Moreover, in the exceptional circumstances of imminent threats, actors collaborating with law enforcement authorities will also be able to use biometric recognition systems. At the same time, the request for authorisation to the judicial authority was made timelier and stricter.

The accompanying progress report prepared by the presidency this week also outlined a number of issues in the text that remain unresolved, in particular in terms of compliances measures for SMEs and the distribution of responsibilities across the AI value chain. Read more.

 

Also this week

  • IMCO and LIBE will have a co-lead on the AI Act
  • Irish Council for Civil Liberties filed a complaint against the European Commission over GDPR enforcement
  • The European Commission launched a proposal for a European Newsroom
  • MEPs push for enlarging the scope of the common charger proposal

 

Before we start: Raj Samani, McAfee’s chief scientist, walks us through the upcoming challenges in the field of cybersecurity, and how regulators, law enforcement authorities and private actors should work together to face cyberthreats.

Cybersecurity: trends and actions

Raj Samani, McAfee’s chief scientist, walks us through the upcoming challenges in the field of cybersecurity, and how regulators, law enforcement authorities and private actors should work together to face cyberthreats.

 

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Artificial Intelligence

Can we start now? The six-month hold up of the AI Act in the European Parliament seems to have ended this week, as the conflict over competency between the parliamentary committees was finally solved. IMCO and LIBE will have a joint lead on the file, with the respective rapporteurs Brando Benifei (S&D) and Dragoș Tudorache (Renew) having equal powers in defining the proposal. That means doubling the people involved, which will of course result in slower progress. However, on the most controversial aspect of banning biometric recognition, the two rapporteurs seem to be largely aligned, as they have both voted in favour of a resolution for a ban back in October.

Game over. The political distance is probably much more significant with the other contender for the AI Act lead, JURI’s Axel Voss (EPP), who got out of the fight defeated. For Voss, the decision was taken on ‘purely political grounds’, and JURI deserved the lead given its activism in the field of AI. However, on the issue of facial recognition technologies, the EPP seems to be isolated in Parliament. The Christian Democrats have lost their major political backer in the recent German elections, and a setback in such a major legislative file might also be seen as an indication of the centre of gravity already moving toward the centre-left.

Competition

Giphy must go. In an unprecedented antitrust decision, UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) ordered Meta to sell image platform Giphy, acquired last year for $400 million. For the antitrust watchdog, the deal risks hampering competition between social media platforms and the display advertising market, a conclusion that Meta disputes and is likely to appeal. In October, Meta was fined $70 million for withholding information about the takeover. Read more.

Not on my watch. The US Federal Trade Commission has launched a lawsuit to block chip supplier Nvidia from acquiring UK chip design provider Arm Ltd. Amid a global semiconductor shortage, the $40bn acquisition, the FTC says, “would give one of the largest chip companies control over the computing technology and designs that rival firms rely on to develop their own competing chips”, stifling innovation in next-generation technologies. The deal has also come under scrutiny from other competition authorities, including in the EU, where the Commission launched an investigation in October over concerns that Nvidia could restrict access or implement higher prices on Arm’s technologies to the detriment of competitors in the sector.

Here we go again. Publishers association GESTE has filed a complaint against Apple with the French Competition Authority, alleging that the tech company has set excessive restrictions on publishers such as limiting access to crucial data, self-preferencing its own services and implementing harsh pricing policies. According to GESTE, these moves not only threaten publishers economically but also pose a danger when it comes to press freedom and pluralism in France. The episode is just the last of a long series of clashes between the French media and Big Tec.

Data & privacy

Data disappointment. A complaint against the European Commission has been lodged with the European Ombudsman by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) for the Commission’s alleged twin failures: to monitor enforcement of the GDPR and ensure accountability from Ireland when it comes to the data protection law’s implementation. GDPR enforcement, or lack thereof, is the subject of much debate at the moment: it has shaped discussions on the DSA and will be the subject of a conference organised by the European Data Protection Supervisor for next year. Read more.

Lawsuits allowed. Consumer groups can launch lawsuits against platforms that process data, such as Facebook, for infringements of EU privacy rules, according to an advocate general at the EU Court of Justice. The opinion came in response to a case initiated against Facebook by the Federation of German Consumer Organisations over the platform’s alleged failure to clearly explain how and why personal data was being processed on the App Centre. Such opinions, while not legally binding, often signal the likely outcome of the case. Read more.

Sanction in view. The UK’s Information Commissioner (ICO) has unveiled its provisional intent to fine controversial AI firm Clearview around £17 million, and to issue a notice that it should stop processing, and delete, the personal data of people in the UK after allegations that the company engaged in serious violations of the country’s data protection laws. The announcement was the result of an investigation by the ICO and the Australian Information Commissioner from which the ICO concluded that the images in Clearview’s database “are likely to include the data of a substantial number of people from the UK and may have been gathered without people’s knowledge”.

Digital Markets Act

Amendments race. ECON is set to violate the ‘truce’ Andreas Schwab had hoped for by asking other political groups not to present separate amendments to the DMA. Rapporteur Yon-Courtian did not appreciate the fact that only three of her amendments were allowed in the IMCO vote. Remarkably, all three were approved in spite of Schwab’s EPP voting against, hence they should not be underestimated. Yon-Courtin has already received the approval of the group coordinators, but the content of the amendments is not yet known. Speculations include a stronger definition for cloud providers (i.e. infrastructure as a service and software as a service), the expansion of interoperability provisions including on near-field-communication antennas, the extension of anti-bundling measures to ancillary services. JURI is also said to be working on amendments, but it is not clear whether it has the necessary support.

Digital Services Act

Which DSA? After two months of stalemate, the DSA file has all of a sudden accelerated to two technical meetings per day and plenty of new versions of compromise amendments going around. The current speed of the negotiations leaves very little room for discussion, but Christel Schaldemose seems determined to reach an agreement at all costs as she dropped her most controversial proposal. The new majority seems firmly in the centre-right, including ECR following the inclusion of provisions that would force platforms to reinstate content that was taken down. Requests from other committees have also been largely overlooked. More clarity on the state of the proposal is expected at the next shadow meeting on Monday, which is also meant to be the last one if the new date for the IMCO vote on 13 December is to be respected.

Industrial strategy

Adjust your expectations. Achieving independence when it comes to semiconductor production is “not doable” in Europe, Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said this week. The EU has been pushing to expand its chip-making capacity amid a global shortage, but Vestager warned against setting sights too high, saying that “there is a different level of production capacity in Europe” and it was instead important for Europe to see itself “in a global perspective”.

International connectivity

Rebranding. After months of postponements and delays, the European Commission finally unveiled its grand infrastructural plan, the Global Gateway, which many observers consider the EU’s bid to rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The budget available, €300 bn, is no match for China’s BRI, whose estimated cost is in trillions. As is often the case when the Commission presents figures, it puts together all sorts of funding and inflates them with some phantom ‘mobilisation of the private sector’. The initiative is therefore little more than a repackaging of existing projects under an umbrella term, something that made some observers use some unpleasant terms (see list of suggested readings).

Media

EU newsroom. The Commission is set to fund the development of a “European Newsroom” gathering 16 news agencies to report on EU affairs in 15 languages, it was announced this week. The unveiling of the plan came at the second edition of the European News Media Forum, which brought together media sector stakeholders to discuss the future of the industry. The newsroom will launch in January and is intended to bolster a multilingual European information space. Read more.

Major merger. Debate is ongoing in France over a deal that would see the country’s two leading TV groups, TF1 and M6, merge to form a media giant on par with US titans such as Netflix. The head of one of the group’s parent companies defended the merger before Senators this week, but the French competition authority and superior audio-visual council have yet to issue an opinion, and antitrust concerns remain widespread. Read more.

Call for denunciation. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on the Commission and Parliament to “firmly denounce” a defamation law recently passed in Greece. The law, described by RSF as an “attack on press freedom”, criminalises “fake news which may cause anxiety and fear to the citizens”. RSF objects to the criminal penalties and worries that the vague wording of the law leaves room for the potential prosecution of journalists for publishing legitimate material. Read more.

Platforms

Platforms on their toes. Gig economy platforms have not missed any chance to express their concerns for the upcoming Commission’s directive for regulating the platform economy, due next Wednesday. The worries were fuelled by a leaked version of the proposal from last month, which goes in a very similar direction as the parliament’s own-initiative report from September. What platforms fear the most is the so-called rebuttable presumption of employment, which would turn most gig workers into employees unless the platforms prove otherwise. However, political support for these measures seems very strong, as shown in an open letter signed by several employment ministries and MEPs.

TikTok transparency. TikTok has released a series of new transparency reports this week, detailing the requests submitted to them by external parties. In addition to setting out the number of take-down notices it issued over intellectual property violations, the platform recorded a massive spike in government removal requests in the first half of 2021, the data reveals, with requests to remove or restrict content or accounts ballooning to 2,434 between January and June this year, compared to the 412 registered in the second half of 2020. Almost 1,900 such requests came from Russia alone. Law enforcement requests for information on users also grew in this period, though not as steeply. Almost 2,000 requests were submitted compared with just over 1,000 in the previous six months, which itself was a decline from the preceding period. The proportion of emergency, as opposed to legal, requests, grew, however.

Twin transitions

Charger expansion sought. EU lawmakers from across political groups came together to push for an expansion of the scope of the Commission’s initiative to harmonise chargers. MEPs pushed for the legislative proposal to include wireless chargers, laptops, smartwatches and other electronic advice during its consideration in the IMCO Committee this week. The Commission, however, has resisted the changes, for the most part citing technical challenges. Read more.

 

What else we’re reading this week:

Ireland’s the Wrong Privacy Watchdog for Europe (The Washington Post)

Why bullshit rules in Brussels (The Economist)

The big idea: Should we worry about artificial intelligence? (The Guardian)

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