Digital Brief, powered by Google: New EU cyber hub, deepfake screening, antitrust failures

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“5G cybersecurity is the most relevant issue we need to face as a European Union.”

– Spain’s secretary of state for Digitization and Artificial Intelligence, Carme Artigas, Thursday 19 November


Story of the week: A series of EU nations have started to make their cases for the nomination as the bloc’s next cybersecurity hub. This week, EURACTIV takes a look at the battle for Europe’s new cyber centre.


Also this week: 5G battle in Portugal, Amazon in France, Austria clampdown on Airbnb,  Microsoft to challenge all government data requests, new EU deepfake screening, Google copyright agreement in France, Northern Ireland broadband boost, Spanish disinformation fight, new Dutch fake news rules, Netherlands’ Palantir concerns, and more…  




Brussels, Munich, Leon, Vilnius, Luxembourg, Bucharest, and Warsaw have all put their names forward as the potential new home of the future European Cybersecurity Industrial, Technology and Research Competence Center.

In 2018, the European Commission presented a regulation establishing the centre, which would receive funding from both the Digital Europe and Horizon Europe programmes as part of the next EU seven-year budget.

The objective of the new project, which would operate alongside a network of national competence hubs, would be to centralize the European cybersecurity technological and industrial ecosystem and pool resources in the field, as a means to bolster the bloc’s resilience in the face of increasing cybersecurity threats.

Earlier this week, Poland made a particularly bold claim for the seat of the new cyber hub, with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki writing to EU nations, making the case for Warsaw to host the centre.

Hot on the heels of Poland this week was Spain.

On Thursday, Spain’s secretary of state for digitisation and Artificial Intelligence, Carme Artigas, spoke to reporters about her country’s priorities should León be successful in its bid, noting how the country’s track record in connectivity, territorial cohesion, and ambitions in 5G will only help its case. Read more here.


Helping people & businesses recover with technology 

Online tools are helping Europeans find new jobs and grow their businesses. The Digital Services Act must create the right conditions for recovery and growth as people ask for more, not less from technology.



Connectivity, data, and localisation. In order for the goals in the EU’s data strategy to be realised, connectivity is a necessary prerequisite, but the bloc should also be wary of implementing policies that move towards a culture of data localisation, Finnish MEP Miapetra Kumpula-Natri told EURACTIV in a recent interview.

Microsoft’s commitment to refusing government data requests. Last week, the Commission released a draft of its new text on Standard Contractual Clauses, which are legally-binding agreements facilitating the transfer of data outside of the EU.

After the European Court of Justice criticized the framework earlier this year in the context of the US government having the legal provisions to request access to EU data for security concerns, firms are now attempting to reassure the EU. This week, Microsoft reaffirmed its commitment. “We are committing that we will challenge every government request for public sector or enterprise customer data – from any government – where there is a lawful basis for doing so,” the company wrote in a blog post.

Gaia-X. As part of a series of events this week promoting the launch of the EU’s cloud infrastructure services project, Gaia-X, a number of industry players such as Amazon Web Services and telecoms industry association ETNO, announced their membership of the initiative.

Facebook preps for WhatsApp fine at Dublin HQ. Facebook has put aside €77.5 million in anticipation of an upcoming fine for data protection violations on its subsidiary WhatsApp, recently filed accounts at the social media giant’s European headquarters in Dublin reveal. Read more.

ePrivacy rejected. Last week, EU member states failed to find common ground on Germany’s proposed ePrivacy text. The Germans may consider returning with a revised text before the end of the year, but an agreement is unlikely.

Schrems Vs Apple. A group led by privacy activist Max Schrems filed complaints on Monday with German and Spanish authorities over Apple’s online tracking tool, saying it breached European law by allowing iPhones to store users’ data without their consent.

Voss’ data opinion. Earlier this week, EPP MEP Axel Voss presented the Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee opinion on the EU data strategy.  Of importance, Voss said, is the principle of freedom of contract and the right to data ownership, as well as giving firms the choice of whom and how they share their data.

“A general access to data or data sharing would violate existing contracts as well as the right of ownership and the principle of proportionality,” Voss said. “Instead, we should give incentives and guidelines on how data can be shared across sectors and borders.”

Worldwide digital trade concerns. The European Consumer Organisation BEUC, along with 41 other worldwide rights and civil society groups, has published a statement on digital trade as part of the World Trade Organisation talks on a Joint Statement Initiative on e-commerce.

The statement, published on Monday, highlights concerns over how ‘cross-border data flows’ could negatively impact data protection and privacy. Read the statement here.

Dutch Palantir concerns. The Dutch Foundation for Market Information Research has launched a broad campaign against US data analytics firm Palantir, calling for more transparency in the firm’s EU operations.

MEP disappointed with Commission Palantir response. Meanwhile, Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld expressed her disappointment earlier this week, after a series of questions she posed to the Commission concerning Palantir’s involvement in the EU went unanswered.


Digital Services Act / Digital Markets Act

DSA & DMA delayed. The Commission has confirmed that the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act will be postponed until 9 December.

Breton’s tough words. Technology companies’ services could be banned from the European market if they do not heed EU regulation, Europe’s industry chief Thierry Breton told German weekly Welt am Sonntag, as the European Commission finalises rules on internet companies.

Public and Private broadcasters speak out. A group of EU broadcasting groups including the Association of Commercial Television in Europe, the Association of European Radios, the European Broadcasting Union, and the Association of Television and Radio Sales Houses have released a position paper on the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act. The statement says platforms should abide by transparency and accountability obligations, to enable future generations to have access to trusted news sources.

Apple’s olive branch. In the run-up to the presentation of the Digital Markets Act in early December, some of the platforms have been attempting to revise some of their alleged ‘anti-competitive’ behaviour.

At the beginning of October, a conglomeration of French and European publishers’ organizations, led by the Alliance de la Presse d’Information Générale (APIG) wrote to Apple’s Tim Cook, highlighting their concerns over the company’s terms of service in the App store, including Apple’s 30% commission on sales made through apps on the platform.

In order to assuage concerns such as these, on Wednesday (17 November), Apple announced it will slash its App Store commission rate to 15% for app developers with less than $1 million in annual net sales.



Commission shortfalls in antitrust oversight. EU auditors have questioned the effectiveness of antitrust fines dished out by the European Commission, as part of a landmark audit of the EU executive’s role as an enforcer of competition rules.

02/Virgin merger referred to the UK. The Commission has referred the assessment of a proposed acquisition by Telefónica’s subsidiary O2 and Liberty Global’s Virgin Media of a newly created joint venture to the UK’s Consumers and Market Authority, after an initial investigation which concluded the move “threatens to affect competition in the telecommunications sector in the UK.”

ComparetheMarket fine. The UK’s competition authority has slapped a £17.9m fine on price comparison site Comparethemarket, for alleged unfair practice. The company has been accused of artificially displaying high insurance costs to consumers. This meant that users were not being shown the cheapest possible deal, contrary to the firm’s promise to consumers. BBC reports.



Portuguese telecoms expected to fight over 5G licences. Portugal risks taking over the EU Council Presidency in the first quarter of 2021 with their 5G dossier on hold, following the war between operators and regulators over the fifth-generation technology that the European Commission has given priority to, reports Alexandra Luís from EURACTIV’s media partner

The award of 5G licenses in Portugal is expected to take place when the country takes over the EU presidency. However, the conflict between telecom operators and the national communications authority (Anacom) threatens to suspend the process. By the end of September, 5G commercial services in the EU had been provided in 17 countries.

5G delays concern Commission. The Commission has expressed concern that EU nations may fail to meet ‘legally-binding’ deadlines in the assignment of 5G frequency bands, further postponing the bloc’s development of next-generation telecommunications networks.

Poland is one of the member states to admit that it definitely won’t meet the Electronic Communications Code end-of-2020 deadline for 5G radio spectrum assignments in the 3.4-3.6Ghz band (the most important in 5G deployment) and the 3.6-3.8GHz band, according to information from the EU’s 5G observatory.

Czech 5G auctions. Czech telecoms regulator CTU has announced the completion of the spectrum auction for the 700 MHz and 3.4-3.6 GHz frequency bands, according to the EU’s 5G observatory.

£165m Northern Ireland Broadband contract. The Northern Ireland Executive has announced the awarding of a £165m contract to connect more than 76,000 rural homes and businesses in Northern Ireland with full-fibre, gigabit-capable broadband, made possible thanks to £150m provided by the UK government.

“This £150m investment from the UK government will help deliver lightning-fast gigabit speeds not just to Northern Ireland’s towns and cities but also to rural areas stuck in the digital slow lane,” the UK’s Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said this week.

Gigabit boost in Germany. Last week, the Commission approved, under EU State aid rules, a German scheme to support the deployment of very high capacity broadband networks offering Gigabit speeds in Germany.



Will France postpone Black Friday? French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire proposed on Thursday that mass distribution actors postpone next week’s Black Friday as e-commerce sellers and particularly Amazon would benefit the most, while many small businesses – who have been forced to close since the new lockdown was imposed three weeks ago – will not.

Le Maire’s proposal could even succeed as French distribution giants Carrefour and Leclerc have already confirmed they would agree to postpone the weekend promotions provided everyone accepts it. The US company agreed late on Thursday to postpone Black Friday for one week so that it would take place on 4 December, France Bleu reports.

Amazon France sales rise. Meanwhile, the head of Amazon France said on Wednesday that the company has seen a boost in activity in the range of 40%-50%.

Airbnb has to inform Austria’s finance ministry about revenue. Starting on the first day of 2021, vacation rental company Airbnb will have to lay bare its revenue so that Austrian authorities can check whether hosts paid taxes, Austria’s finance ministry announced.  Airbnb has welcomed the ruling for harmonising and clarifying regulations across the country after it had been in conflict with many Austrian cities over taxes and local tourism fees, reports EURACTIV’s Philipp Grüll.

Disinformation in Spain. A Spanish government plan to fight disinformation has sparked complaints from the media and the opposition, which say it limits free expression and seeks to establish a “ministry of truth”.

TERREG. The EU’s proposed Online Terrorist Content Regulation and the Interim Regulation on child abuse materials raise serious fundamental rights concerns, writes Access Now’s Eliška Pírková this week.

Facebook content moderators speak out. More than 200 content moderators working at Facebook from across the US and Europe have written to Mark Zuckerberg, calling for better workplace conditions and full employment rights, during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dutch moves against disinformation. The Netherlands is putting into place a package of measures to tackle disinformation in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in March 2021., including a Code of Conduct that aims to make it more transparent who is behind a political advertisement.


Artificial Intelligence

EU law enforcement recommends new screening technology. EU law enforcement authorities should make ‘significant investments’ into developing new screening technologies that could help to detect the malicious use of deepfakes, a new report from the bloc’s police agency Europol recommends.

In Brussels, the European Commission is putting the final touches to its upcoming Digital Services Act, an ambitious regulatory framework that will introduce new rules in areas ranging from content moderation to online advertising and the transparency of algorithms. The new rules will be presented by the EU executive on 9 December.

A recent paper funded by the German Foreign Office and discussed in the EU Council’s Working Party for Hybrid Threats states that the Digital Services Act could include ‘opportunities for regulation’ against ‘deepfake threats.’



Certain media excluded from press conferences. The International Press Institute (IPI) expressed its disappointment over the lack of communication between the Czech government and Czech media. IPI together with other free press organisations expressed their concerns in an open letter addressed to the government. Read more.

Canada and UK media award for Belarus. The first-ever Media Freedom Award, bestowed by the governments of Britain and Canada, was given on Monday (16 November) to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the foreign ministries of the two countries said.



Google agreement with French publishers. Google has said that it has arrived at a series of agreements with French publishers for remuneration under the neighbouring rights’ provision of the EU’s copyright directive.



Parents can always choose online learning for children, says education minister. Parents who want their children to go online “have no reason to panic” as they could always choose this option, Serbia’s Education Minister Branko Ružić told the public broadcasting service (RTS) on Monday, adding that schools appear to be the safest place amid the COVID-19 pandemic and that the situation is constantly monitored. Read more.


On my radar

The European Commission’s Data Governance Act, having been delayed, is now due to be presented next week, on 24 November. EURACTIV received a copy of the draft recently, read about it here. 


What else I’m reading this week:

  • A Year On, Twitter Still Doesn’t Know How To Deal With Its Dead (Forbes)
  • Video games ‘good for well-being’ says University of Oxford study (BBC)
  • Making gender-neutral emojis is more complicated than you think (WIRED)

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