Leading MEP’s bid to ‘take back control of Big Tech’

The Digital Services Act (DSA) is the a flagship legislative initiative to regulate the online space. [Shutterstock]

The Digital Services Act (DSA), a key legislative proposal intended to regulate online content, services and goods, will provide a “democratic rulebook for online platforms,” the EU lawmaker responsible told EURACTIV ahead of a debate in the European Parliament on Monday (21 June).

Danish lawmaker and DSA rapporteur Christel Schaldemose said the legislation was “an opportunity to regulate tech giants in a way we haven’t done before.”  While the Commission’s proposal is a “good starting point,” the Socialist MEP said she has enhanced parts relating to consumer protection.

Online marketplaces as a threat

The draft legislation includes stricter product safety obligations for online retailers in a bid to replicate the chain of responsibility for offline retailers.

“Online marketplaces threaten our product safety legislation in the EU,” Schaldemose said.

Based on these provisions, if the online platform does not ensure that the trader can be held responsible, for instance having a legal representative in an EU country, then the platform itself becomes liable.

Conservative MEPs bashed the proposal arguing it would increase the bureaucratic burden for smaller players. In response, the rapporteur pointed to the principle that “what is illegal offline must be illegal online”, hence ensuring comparable obligations for business operating online and offline would in her view create a level playing field for the retail market.

Sebastiano Toffaletti, Secretary General of European DIGITAL SME Alliance, told EURACTIV that he considered the measure on the liability for non-EU based economic operators proportionate to avoid loopholes for dangerous products.

However, he criticised the provision that extends liability for marketplaces also for vendors that are unresponsive to claims as an unfair liability for small platforms.

“On the issue of product safety, we agree EU product compliance rules should be equally well respected by operators with an EU or non-EU origin. It is however important to stress that the review of the General Product Safety Directive is expected very soon,” said Magdalena Piech, Chair of the European Tech Alliance.

For Schaldemose, postponing provisions to upcoming legislation “is the most used argument to avoid regulating”, assessing that the DSA is the “best opportunity” to introduce rules specific to online marketplaces without contradicting the horizontal nature of the proposal.

Micro-targeting

On targeted advertising, Schaldemose explained that in her report she mainly brought the perspective of the parliamentary committee she is representing, the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO). In her view, proposing tighter restrictions on data processing is the responsibility of the committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE).

The MEP said that she and the socialist group are in favour of banning microtargeting, but that how in practice this would be done is yet to be defined. Schaldemose indicated as a potential starting point for that the opinion of the Legal Affairs (JURI) committee, which proposed a phase out from behavioural-targeted advertisement.

“When you create an account on an online platform or buy a new device, the level of data protection is by default the lowest, so that the companies can gain the most of the data. You need to scale it up yourself and the average consumer doesn’t really look into it and think it’s complicated. This is the opposite of how it should be. We need to stop this pervasive harvesting of data,” Schaldemose added.

Content moderation

The lawmaker said she recognised content moderation as a “difficult debate”, because of the need to strike a balance between freedom of speech and safety concerns. She pointed at the removal of illegal content as the priority, considering harmful content out of scope for the DSA. However, she admitted that even for illegal content significant differences remain that are linked to the country’s history and sensitivity.

“In Germany it is illegal to deny the holocaust, in Denmark it is legal. Not because we like people who deny holocaust, but we haven’t had the same historical experiences as Germany,” she explained.

For Schaldemose, harmonising illegal content definition at EU level might effectively lower the standard to find a common ground. For cross-border cases, a cooperation mechanism between the member states should apply, under the oversight of the European Commission.

The Danish lawmaker insists that online platforms will be responsible for the removal of illegal content as defined in each country, and will be hold accountable for the choices of their algorithms that violate fundamental rights.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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