'Organise the digital world': New EU digital laws designed to reign in Big Tech

'Organise the digital world': New EU digital laws designed to reign in Big Tech
Credit: Laurie Dieffembacq / Belga

The European Parliament recently adopted two long-awaited laws to make the internet safer and more reliable. While the Digital Services Act (DSA) will ensure that large internet services such as Facebook and YouTube in the European Union take tougher action against hate speech and fake news on the one hand. The Digital Markets Act (DMA), on the other hand, is intended to prevent online services to build up and maintain a monopoly position.

These two packages of laws are intended to regulate the internet in Europe.

"The online world is currently the Wild West and Europe is the first continent in the world to implement a thorough reform of the digital space," Flemish MEP Hilde Vautmans said.

Offline laws for online space

The underlying idea of this new legislation is that the rights and duties of the real world should be extended to the digital world.

"We want to ensure that everything that cannot be done offline is not possible online," Vautmans said. "We want to better organise the digital world and want to better protect the fundamental rights of users and be able to act better against everything that is digital."

Thus far regulating harmful content has been left up to the services themselves, Joris van Hoboken, Professor of Information Law at the University of Amsterdam and the VUB, said. With the approval of these laws, national governments and the EU will play a bigger role.

That may all sound fairly abstract, but it will become quite concrete in the coming period. Perhaps the most concrete is the DSA: that law is going to require large internet companies to tackle illegal content and disinformation.

Major internet services such as Facebook, Google, YouTube, TikTok and Amazon will have to actively look for things that are illegal, like hate speech and terrorist propaganda, and also remove them faster — within 24 hours. In addition, they must tackle disinformation — fake news — in a more targeted way.

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The right to freedom of expression will also have to be taken into account here. Internet companies will therefore have to carefully consider what they may or may not remove.

Beyond user protection

Both the European Commission and the Member States will also strictly monitor this: the EU will do this itself with the big companies, with more than 45 million users, while the Member States will become a watchdog for the smaller internet companies.

While the DSA legislation deals with internet services, the DMA legislation focuses more on the business side of the internet, with a series of new obligations and prohibitions for the major online platforms.

The intention is that in the future they will be less able to acquire and maintain a monopoly position, and smaller players will no longer be forced to compete out of the market.

For example, messaging apps will now have to be able to collaborate and communicate with each other. It should be possible to send and receive messages from smaller messaging apps to and from WhatsApp or Messenger.

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