Tech Brief: Russia looms large at TTC, Microsoft loosens up, net neutrality

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

 

“Put your money where your mouth is”

Frances Haugen, Facebook’s whistleblower, to MEPs about the DSA

 

Story of the week: Russia loomed large at the EU-US talks in Paris, during the second edition of the Trade and Technology Council (TTC). The TTC was launched last September in Pittsburgh with the aim of becoming a permanent transatlantic exchange platform for Brussels and Washington to find common ground on international trade and emerging technologies.

So far, European Commission Vice President Margrethe Vestager has reported on work that is both “intangible” and “very concrete”.

As unveiled by EURACTIV last week, however, the confrontation with Russia was at the core of the high-level meeting this time, very much focused on mitigating the repercussions of the war and anticipating such disruptions in the future.

“The world has changed dramatically since the first TTC meeting in Pittsburgh on 29 September 2021,” read the meeting’s final conclusions. The two blocs renewed their commitments to defend Ukraine’s “sovereignty, independence et territorial integrity”.

The EU and the US also agreed to ban the export of advanced technology equipment which is “not multilaterally controlled and could have potential military application” to Russia and Belarus.

“Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine highlighted the importance of very key areas for cooperation between the US and the EU”, Jason Oxman, CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, the global trade association for the tech sector, told EURACTIV, citing the initiatives to better secure the supply chains, to invest in technology manufacturing capabilities and the new international standards mechanism for cooperation.

“It is important, not only because of the need to isolate Russia, for example, but the need to unify in the face of that isolation, and also the need to address the fact that China, which is a non-market economy, in many ways doesn’t share a lot of the EU values about competition and freedom”, he added. Read the full story.

 

Don’t miss: Microsoft has launched a set of changes to its cloud service licensing conditions in an attempt to avoid recently initiated competition inquiries by the Commission from crystallising into a full investigation. In March, a group of European cloud companies lodged a formal complaint against Microsoft with the EU executive, claiming that the tech giant was making it more expensive for customers to use licensing systems other than Azure, its own cloud infrastructure. Speaking at an event in Brussels this week, the company’s president, Brad Smith, said Microsoft conceded that some of the complaints were valid, and said that in its desire to compete with Amazon, the only company ahead of Microsoft in terms of cloud service sales, it had lost sight of the damage it was doing to smaller players in the market.

The Commission has since issued questionnaires on the matter, signalling the beginnings of a process that could potentially lead to an official antitrust case. To preempt this, Microsoft has unveiled a number of updates to its relationship with European cloud providers, amongst which are changes to allow these actors to directly incorporate software such as Windows and Office 365 into the products they develop and host on their cloud infrastructure, and a simplification of licensing terms in accordance with the Fair Software Licensing Principles. Read more.

 

Also this week:

  • ITRE committee won’t back the Council’s position on network contribution as part of the path to the digital decade out of respect for following net neutrality rules.
  • Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen urges MEPs to ensure the DSA succeeds and does not become a “dead letter”
  • The head of the European Broadcasting Union speaks to EURACTIV about the politics of this year’s contest

 

Before we start: In this week’s podcast, Alexandra Paulus, a Fellow for International Cybersecurity Policy with the German think tank Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, explains what cyber norms are, who shapes them and whether Germany is actually practising what it preaches.

Cyber norms: Germany is not walking the talk

Alexandra Paulus, Fellow for International Cybersecurity Policy with the German think tank Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, explains what cyber norms are, who shapes them and whether Germany is actually practising what it preaches.

 

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Artificial Intelligence

Compromise AI-gain. The EU Council’s French Presidency this week circulated another compromise text on the AI Act, seen by EURACTIV. The document, which was reviewed on Tuesday, included proposals for better differentiation between the transparency obligations placed on AI systems classed as “general purpose” and those classed as high-risk. Exempted from these requirements, however, are micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises, the first of which are also exempted from provisions covering quality management systems. Read more.

Copyright

Final warning. The Commission has issued reasoned opinions to 13 countries for their failure to transpose the controversial EU Copyright Directive into national law, almost a year after the deadline for doing so passed. Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, France, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, and Sweden all received the formal notifications and are required to respond within two months, outlining how they plan on preceding. If the issue is left unresolved, the Commission could advance it to the EU Court of Justice. Read more.

Cybersecurity

Nobody is safe. Representatives of the frequently targeted energy industry are more concerned about the risk of cyberattacks than before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a new global risk report has found. Sven Herpig, head of international cybersecurity policy at the think tank Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, told EURACTIV the energy sector is frequently targeted in the cyberspace, “not only by cybercriminals, who aim to make money from such attacks but also in order to gain access and prepare the battlefield, as has been happening in Ukraine for years”. Read more.

Cyberattacks related to the war in Ukraine on the rise. Romania’s National Directorate for Cyber Security (DNSC) has been tracking such cyber incidents very closely, noticing a sharp increase since early May. Whereas until the end of April, they reported attacks in the low hundreds per day, on 17 May as many as 12,197 incidents were recorded. Notably, the DNSC includes low and unsuccessful incidents as well. The pro-Russian hacker group Killnet claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on both Italian and German government websites in May.

Data & privacy

Data sharing. The data of European internet users is shared on average 376 times a day in order to facilitate “real-time bidding” on ad placement, a study by the Irish Council of Civil Liberties (ICCL) has found. In a split second, individuals’ data, such as the location of their device, is passed between intermediaries representing the actors placing ads in order to determine which content is shown. Over the course of a year, the ICCL found, the data of users in Europe is shared 71 billion times, a figure that rises to 107 trillion for users in the US. Last year, the ICCL launched a legal case against part of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) over this real-time bidding, describing it as “the world’s largest data breach”.

Digital Markets Act

Approval granted. The European Parliament this week endorsed the Council’s provisional agreement on the DMA, marking a step forward in the solidification of the landmark bill. The measure passed with 43 votes in favour, support which MEP Andreas Schwab said demonstrated that the Parliament “stands united against the unfair practices of gatekeepers”. Final votes on both the DMA and the DSA, which was agreed last month, are expected in Parliament’s plenary in July, ahead of formal adoption by the Council.

Digital Services Act

“Put your money where your mouth is”. MEPs must do their utmost to ensure the DSA is a “success story” and not a “dead letter”, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen told the European Parliament on Wednesday, urging lawmakers in the IMCO Committee to “put your money where your mouth is”. The bill will incentivise the prioritisation of users when platforms are faced with a choice between profit maximisation and public interest, said Haugen, who rose to global notoriety last year after leaking documents from her former employer which she said showed the company had consistently sacrificed user safety in the name of business. She also welcomed the outcome of the TTC, voicing her support for greater alignment between the US and EU on issues such as data access. Read more.

Disinformation

Disinfo discussions. Members of the US House of Representatives Committee on Intelligence have written to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg to address reports that rising pro-Russian disinformation found on Facebook in Slovakia is not being tackled, despite being repeatedly flagged to the platform by government officials in both Slovakia and the US. The letter follows a trip to Bratislava last month by Committee members and notes that Facebook reportedly only has one fact-checker dedicated to Slovakia, despite pledges by the company to boost coverage in Eastern Europe and the scale of the issue. The Committee is now requesting that, by June, Facebook brief them on the content in question and the action it is taking to address it.

Media

Unavoidably political. The circumstances surrounding this year’s Eurovision song contest were exceptional, and it is naïve to think politics can be kept out of cultural institutions entirely, the head of the European Broadcasting Union told EURACTIV this week. The event’s organisers decided to exclude Russia from the contest this year, in the wake of the country’s invasion of Ukraine. But not having done so would have been even more political and would likely have led to boycotts, Noel Curran said in a discussion, which also covered online abuse against artists, the response of social media platforms and how technology might shape Eurovisions of the future. Read more. 

Platforms

To buy or not to buy. Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter has been put on ice – temporarily – the billionaire said on Friday. The $44 billion acquisition, announced last month, was halted pending the confirmation of reports that the proportion of fake accounts on the platform may be higher than the less-than-5% figure cited by the platform. On Tuesday, by which time Twitter’s shares had fallen considerably, Musk said the deal would not be able to move forward until he had further information about the prevalence of bots. Observers, however, have noted that this information is not new, speculating that the pause may instead be a tactic to drive down the price of the purchase. Whether or not this is the case, the company’s board is pushing ahead, promising to enforce the merger agreement despite Musk’s hesitation. Read more.

“Lex Netflix”. Swiss voters have given their support to proposals for a new law that would require streaming platforms such as Netflix to invest 4% of the revenue they generate in Switzerland in the country’s film industry. 58% voted in favour of the proposal, which is designed to boost domestic film-making. The proposal follows similar efforts in other EU countries, such as Portugal; related measures are underway in Denmark and Spain. Read more.

Failed Delivery Attempt. While the French plaftorm workers were called upon to vote for their representatives for the first time, as part of a government-initiated “social dialogue” exercise, very few of them responded to the call. The participation rate was 3.91% for drivers and 1.83% for couriers, EURACTIV learned from the authority tasked to set up the elections.

Metamoney. A new study, run by Analysis Group and funded by Meta, estimates that the metaverse could contribute 1.7% of Europe’s GDP in its first decade. Globally, it could rise up to 2.8%. “Like mobile technology, the metaverse is expected to have far-reaching applications, with the potential to transform a wide range of economic sectors such as education, health care, manufacturing, job training, communications, entertainment, and retail”, say the authors of the report.

IMCO heads to California. MEPs from the IMCO committee will travel to Silicon Valley next week to convene with tech firms, local authorities and academics. Amongst the companies scheduled for meetings are Google, Meta, Apple, Paypal, Airbnb, Uber and eBay. The purpose of the visit is to better acquaint the EU lawmakers with US legislative action on e-commerce and platforms and to discuss digital markets’ developments and their impact in areas such as AI and the gig economy. The focus will also be on potential ramifications for the EU agenda, particularly with regard to the DSA and DMA.

Telecom

Fair contribution versus net neutrality. The European Parliament Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) does not support the Council’s position on network contribution as part of the path to the digital decade out of respect for following net neutrality rules. ITRE shadow rapporteur Jordi Solé from the Greens also told EURACTIV that the “fair contribution” could potentially impact end prices for consumers and negatively affect free competition. The trilogue debate could already offer a taste of the direction the Commission is aiming to follow, as the EU executive is also working on a legal initiative to make big tech firms contribute to telecom network costs. Read more.

Vital investments. Online service providers are seeing increasing revenues, but the return on infrastructure investment for network operators is much less, a new report by GSMA has found. Investment in these areas is needed, the report warned, to ensure that the capacity, coverage and speed of these networks keep pace with demand. The report’s release follows last week’s announcement by Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton that the Commission will propose by the end of this year a measure to make content-heavy platforms contribute to the cost of maintaining the cost of telecom networks. Read more. 

Telecoms integration. Poland has written to the Internal Market Commissioner Breton urging more support in integrating Ukraine into the EU telecoms sector. Communications networks have been crucial for the millions of Ukrainians who have left the country since Russia’s invasion in February, and Poland’s plenipotentiary for cybersecurity is now calling for improved coordination and monitoring. The letter emphasises “uniformity of assistance” to those fleeing Ukraine as a key goal, including in non-EU countries such as the US and Canada, to which many refugees might also go. Read more.

 

What else we’re reading this week:

  • How Gen Z is hooked on cryptocurrency and NFTs (BBC)
  • The Enduring Afterlife of a Mass Shooting’s Livestream Online (The New York Times)

 

Laura Kabelka contributed to the reporting.

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