What to know about new big tech rules

5 mins read

Major tech companies including Google, Facebook, TikTok, and others operating within Europe are facing an extensive initiative aimed at improving online experiences. The European Union’s (EU) pioneering Digital Services Act (DSA) is set to become effective this week. The DSA is part of a series of tech-focused regulations formulated by the EU, which has been at the forefront of efforts to rein in tech giants.

Scheduled to begin this Friday, the DSA requires the largest platforms to adhere to new regulations. The primary objective of the DSA is to ensure user safety online and combat the dissemination of harmful content that is either illegal or violates a platform’s terms of service, such as content promoting genocide or anorexia. Additionally, the DSA aims to safeguard fundamental rights of European citizens, including privacy and freedom of speech.

Several online platforms, potentially facing significant fines if they fail to comply, have already initiated changes.

The platforms affected include 19 entities. Among them are eight social media platforms: Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Snapchat. Five online marketplaces—Amazon, Booking.com, Alibaba’s AliExpress, and Germany’s Zalando—are also subject to the regulations. Additionally, mobile app stores Google Play and Apple’s App Store, as well as Google’s Search and Microsoft’s Bing search engine, are within the scope of the regulations. Google Maps and Wikipedia are also included.

The EU’s list is determined by the number of users reported by the platforms. Platforms with 45 million users or more, or those accounting for 10% of the EU’s population, will face the highest level of regulation under the DSA. However, there are some notable omissions and the list is not final, potentially allowing other platforms to be added later.

While the DSA imposes varying degrees of obligations, all businesses providing digital services to Europeans will eventually need to comply. Smaller platforms will have an additional six months to conform.

In response to the uncertainty surrounding the new regulations, Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has postponed the launch of its Twitter competitor, Threads, in the EU.

The forthcoming changes involve platforms implementing new mechanisms for users in Europe to report illegal content and suspicious products. These companies will be required to promptly and objectively remove flagged content. The DSA is predicted to significantly influence users’ online experiences, as stated by Nick Clegg, Meta’s President for Global Affairs.

For instance, Amazon has introduced a new reporting channel for suspected illegal products and has provided more information about third-party sellers. TikTok has added an “additional reporting option” for users to flag potentially illegal content, encompassing categories such as hate speech, harassment, self-harm, and misinformation. A dedicated team will then assess flagged content for policy violations or unlawfulness.

Some platforms are also taking steps to allow users to control content recommendations. TikTok users can disable video recommendations based on past viewing habits, and similar options will be available for Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat users. The DSA also forbids targeting vulnerable groups, like children, with ads.

While companies such as Zalando and Amazon have filed legal challenges over their inclusion in the DSA’s list, potential fines for non-compliance could reach up to 6% of global revenue or even result in a ban from the EU. The DSA focuses on ensuring tech companies have appropriate processes in place to mitigate the harm caused by algorithm-based recommendation systems. Consequently, these platforms will undergo audits to verify their compliance.

These regulatory changes in Europe may have global repercussions. Wikipedia, for example, is adjusting its policies and terms of use globally. Snapchat is implementing a new reporting and appeal process for flagging illegal content, starting in the EU and then extending globally.

In summary, Europe’s groundbreaking Digital Services Act is set to reshape the online landscape for major tech companies, aiming to ensure user safety, protect fundamental rights, and regulate the dissemination of harmful content. While some companies are challenging their inclusion, the regulations’ impact will likely extend beyond Europe’s borders, affecting various aspects of digital platforms and services.