Digital Brief, powered by Google: Gaia-X, Huawei troubles, DSA

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“At the end of the day, when Gaia-X becomes operational, it will be possible for American or Indian or Chinese companies to offer services.”

– German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier. 


Story of the week: EU Telecoms Ministers this week adopted a joint declaration on a series of commitments intended to bolster the bloc’s cloud infrastructure, but how much reliance will there be on firms from outside of the EU? 


Also this week: FR & NL on Digital Services Act, Huawei responds to MEPs, Zhenhua Data breach impacts Hungary, Five Eyes want backdoors, EU funds Myanmar app. 



Global technology giants including Google, Microsoft, and IBM, in addition to Chinese players in the market, are welcome to take part in the EU’s ambitious cloud infrastructure project Gaia-X, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on Thursday (15 October).

While international firms have been involved since the inception of Gaia-X, Altmaier’s comments run counter to the notion of establishing a ‘sovereign’ EU cloud services infrastructure that would primarily be operated by firms emanating from the bloc.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, trade lobby Digital Europe, which counts some of the US tech giants as members, including Google, Apple, Facebook, and Apple, announced that they had applied to become a member of the Gaia-X project. Three of the association’s founding members, SAP, Bosch, and Siemens are founding members of the initiative.

Altmaier also announced on Thursday the signing of a joint declaration on cloud technologies, in a bid to form a so-called ‘European Cloud Federation.” Signatories vowed to cooperate closely on the creation of European cloud systems that offer a “resilient and competitive European supply for the public and private sector needs”.


Helping people & businesses recover with technology 

Google is committed to helping 10 million people and businesses find jobs, digitise and grow through easy to use products and training to support Europe during the pandemic.


UK/EU Data Adequacy. The UK government is coming under increasing pressure to convince Brussels regulators that the country’s data protection landscape is fit for EU personal data, amid wider concerns that UK surveillance practices compromise the security of EU standards.

On Tuesday (13 October), the UK’s upper chamber, the House of Lords, published a report on the future relationship between the UK and the EU in the business world, highlighting their worry that “there is a possibility that the Commission may not grant the UK a data adequacy decision,” for data transfers from the bloc after the Brexit transition period concludes at the end of the year.

On the other side of the coin, the European Commission should not grant the UK a data adequacy agreement as part of its ongoing assessment of the country’s data protection landscape, an Irish civil rights group has said.

Encryption and security. The “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance demanded Sunday that tech companies insert “backdoors” in encrypted apps to allow law enforcement agencies the access they say they need to police online criminality.

China data breach impacts Hungary. A Chinese list containing the personal information of 2.4 million people was leaked in September from Shenzhen company Zhenhua Data. The list includes the names, portrait photos, links to social media, status (active or inactive), gender and in some cases a summary of the professional backgrounds of 710 Hungarians and their relatives, of which Radio Free Europe Hungary was able to identify 393.

Among the influential people on the list, including judges, office captains and clergymen, was one of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s children, as well as several state-owned companies, including The Central Hungarian Bank, The Hungarian National Asset Management Inc., and MÁV-START Ltd.

French health data. The French administrative court said on Wednesday that French personal health data hosted in the EU under a contract with Microsoft cannot legally be transferred outside the European Union, but that the processing of data by Microsoft in the EU is permitted.

Irish DPC welcomes new budget. Ireland’s Data Protection Commission this week welcomed the allocation of €19.1 million in funding to the authority, as announced by the Government in Budget 2021. The new outlay represents an increase to the €16.9 million that was allocated for 2020.


Digital Services Act / Digital Markets Act

France & Netherlands speak out. Forthcoming EU rules to rein in the dominance of the Big Tech giants should include measures to regulate platform giants from accumulating too many users at the disadvantage of smaller competitors, a position paper from France and the Netherlands says.

The document, published on Thursday (15 October), suggests that market failures have arisen in the digital economy stemming from “users’ inability to shop around on the market.”

“The purpose of these measures would be enhancing competition by regulating access to relevant inputs, users, and online infrastructure,” the French and Dutch say, adding that one particular obligation could be to force platforms to “proactively offer alternatives to users.”

Big Tech on harmful content. New EU measures regulating the web should avoid, in the first instance, rules on the hosting of online content deemed “harmful” but not “illegal”, a Brussels trade association representing the world’s largest online platforms has said.

French Avia Law influence. Check out this interesting blog post from the University of Leuven’s Centre for IT & IP law on how the French Conseil Constitutionnel ruling on the Avia law is likely to influence EU policy in the form of the Digital Services Act and the regulation against online terrorist content.



Facebook holocaust denial ban. Earlier this week, Facebook updated its terms of use to ban any form of holocaust denial on the platform. They, however, stopped short of prohibiting any other examples of genocide denial.

Facebook moderators complain. Facebook content moderators in Dublin have hit out at their working conditions, amid a worsening public health emergency in Ireland. Read more.

Google joins new Brussels association. Yesterday, Google officially joined the European Advertising Standards Alliance as the first corporate member of the group.



German developments. As Germany gears up to transpose the European Copyright Directive into national law by the summer of 2021, the new draft tabled by Justice Minister Christine’s Lambrecht (SPD) provides for upload filters, although the government promised to do without them.

The bill was published by Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) and has yet to be approved by the federal government. Lambrecht said the draft is a “fair balance of interests”, and an “important step towards meeting the implementation deadline of summer 2021”.

However, the government had promised that such upload filters would be avoided when it agreed to the EU copyright reform in April 2019.



Huawei struggles. Chinese telecom giant Huawei is finding it harder to counter US sanctions designed to choke off its access to semiconductors but can continue to serve European 5G network clients, a senior European executive told an Austrian newspaper.

MEP letter against Chinese vendors. A cross-party letter from 41 MEPs has hit out at Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE, accusing the companies of being ‘high-risk’ vendors, whose “technology in Europe’s 5G networks would constitute a security threat.”

In response, Huawei didn’t hold back, even suggesting that the letter could have been pushed by one of the firm’s European rivals. “We should be cautious when labeling vendors on the basis of the location of their headquarters,” a Huawei spokesperson told EURACTIV.

“Some companies might be headquartered in Europe, but have their substantial decision center, their supply chains, and their research and development facilities in other world regions, such as the US or China. This includes two of our major 5G peers.”

Italy competition worries. Concerns have emerged among EU consumer groups that plans in Italy to establish a single firm overseeing the rollout of the country’s future broadband infrastructure could lead to a ‘quasi-monopolistic’ market structure.

5G in France. Telecoms operator Orange is to roll out 5G network services for consumers in France early December.



Amazon probe. EU antitrust regulators may narrow the scope of their year-long investigation into Amazon to speed up the case against the U.S. online retail giant, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.



OECD Digital Tax Pushed back. Earlier this week, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) announced that the objective of reaching a political agreement for an international digital tax framework had been pushed back to mid-2021.


Artificial Intelligence

Access Now leaves AI group. Digital rights group Access Now has announced that it has left an industry-backed group on Artificial Intelligence, citing concerns that there was a ‘smaller role to play’ inside the organization for civil society.



Stars4Media. At an event held by Europe’s Media Lab (Fondation EURACTIV) yesterday, the Stars4Media results were unveiled. The project, run by a consortium of media professionals and experts, supports innovation in the media sector, through training and cross-border cooperation. See the results here.

“Repolonisation” of the media. Poland’s culture minister Piotr Glinski on Tuesday has called for state-run companies to buy as many media outlets as possible. “Wherever it is possible, state-owned companies should buy media,” Gliński told radio station RMF FM.

His comments came after reports emerged that state energy giant Orlen is in talks with German publishing group Verlagsgruppe Passau over buying its Polish arm, Polska Press, which owns 20 out of Poland’s 24 regional daily newspapers as well as several local weeklies and news websites, reports EURACTIV’s Alexandra Brzozowski.


Human Rights

EU funds Myanmar app. An EU-funded voting application in Myanmar has come under heavy criticism for inciting “racial and religious vilification” in the country by profiling candidates’ ethnicity and beliefs, using derogatory terminology to designate those of Rohingya descent.

The mVoter 2020 application has been developed under the EU-funded STEP Democracy Project, which claims to support ‘inclusive, peaceful and credible electoral processes’ in Myanmar, in order to assist the democratic transition in the country.



StopCovid app gets update. A new version of France’s StopCovid app – which was first launched at the start of June – will be made available for download from 22 October, French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced yesterday (12 October) in an interview with France Info, when he also noted that “we are in a strong second wave”.

The app was only downloaded two million times compared to the respective 18 million and 16 million downloads of the German and British tracing apps. Castex admitted on 24 September to not having downloaded the French version, reports EURACTIV’s Lucie Duboua-Lorsch.

Council of Europe report. A report published this week by the Council of Europe highlights a number of shortcomings in the protection of privacy and personal data by governments in preventing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic among signatories to the data protection “Convention 108”.

Belgium to launch ‘Coronavirus barometer’. The “Coronavirus barometer” announced at the end of September is set to be launched this week on Friday (16 October) as Belgium battles one of the highest infection rates per capita across the EU. Read more.


On my radar

19 October is an important day for MEPs taking the lead in EU digital policy, with a series of reports on the Digital Services Act & Artificial Intelligence up for the debate, and later in the week, they will be subject to a vote


What else I’m reading this week:

  • Facial recognition data leaks are rampant in China (SCMP)
  • FCC Acts as Trump Intensifies Call to Dilute Social Media Shield (Bloomberg)
  • The flipside of China’s central bank digital currency (ASPI)


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