How EU’s new DSA rules impact tech giants and users

Some of the biggest tech companies, such as Facebook or TikTok, have to comply with additional requirements to address the potential risks they may cause.
Rizwan Choudhury
EU DSA representative image.
EU DSA representative image.

Source: Cristian Storto Fotografia/iStock 

The European Union has introduced new standards to make some of the biggest tech companies and search engines more accountable and responsible for the content and services they offer to users.

The EU Digital Services Act (DSA), which came into force on 16 November 2022, imposes strict requirements and hefty fines on platforms that fail to comply with the standards of transparency, safety, and fairness.

Who is affected by the DSA?

The DSA applies to all online intermediaries that provide services in the EU, but 19 major platforms, such as Facebook or TikTok, face the most stringent rules as they have more than 45 million EU users. They are classified as very large online platforms (VLOPs) and have to meet additional requirements to mitigate the potential risks they may pose to users and society.

What are the risks?

These risks range from illegal content such as hate speech, terrorism, child sexual abuse, and counterfeit products, to violations of fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, media freedom, discrimination, consumer protection, and children’s rights. They also include threats to public security and democracy such as election interference, disinformation, and cyberattacks, as well as harms to physical and mental health such as gender-based violence, self-harm, addiction, and exposure to harmful content.

What are the requirements?

The DSA requires VLOPs to conduct regular risk assessments and report them to the European Commission and national authorities. They also have to implement effective measures to prevent, detect, and remove illegal content and activity, as well as protect the rights and interests of users.

One of the key measures is to ban targeted advertising based on profiling children. This means that VLOPs cannot show personalized ads to users under 18 based on their online behavior or preferences.

Another important measure is to provide more transparency and accountability on how their algorithms work. This means that VLOPs have to disclose how they rank, recommend, and moderate content and ads, as well as how they collect and use data. They also have to share data with independent researchers who want to study the impact of online platforms on society.

What are the changes?

Many VLOPs have already made changes to comply with the DSA. For example, TikTok stopped showing personalized ads to users aged 13-17 in Europe in July 2021. Meta apps including Facebook and Instagram stopped showing personalised ads to users aged 13-17 worldwide from February 2022. They also gave users in Europe the option to view Stories and Reels only from people they follow, ranked in chronological order. Snapchat also restricted its personalized ads for users aged 13-17 in the UK and Europe. It also created a library of ads shown in the EU. Google promised to increase data access for researchers who want to understand more about how Google Search, YouTube, Google Maps, Google Play, and Shopping work.

Some VLOPs have not yet detailed the changes they have made when asked by the BBC. X, formerly called Twitter, simply said it was “on track” to meet its compliance deadlines.

Some have also challenged their designation as VLOPs. Retailers Zalando and Amazon have filed legal action against the commission, arguing that they are not the largest retailers in any of the EU countries where they operate.

However, both Zalando and Amazon have taken steps to comply with the DSA. Amazon said it has “created a new channel for submitting notices against suspected illegal products and content”. Zalando told the BBC it will be compliant with the act.

What are the benefits?

The DSA is expected to improve the online environment for users, businesses, and society in the EU. It also sets a global standard for regulating digital services that could influence other countries such as the UK, which is working on its own Online Safety Bill. 

The EU's Digital Services Act is an unprecedented step in reining in the uncontrolled power wielded by big tech. It could serve as a template for other jurisdictions aiming to regulate the complex ecosystem of the digital age.

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