The European legislation on digital services, which aims to create a safe and responsible online environment, came into force on 16 November 2022.
It applies to all digital services that connect consumers to goods, services or content.
It creates new obligations for online platforms to reduce damages and tackle online risks, introduces strong protections for online users’ rights and places digital platforms in a new single framework for transparency and responsibility.
Designed as a single, uniform set of rules for the EU, they will provide new protections for users and legal certainty for businesses throughout the single market.
The digital services legislation is a pioneering regulatory toolkit on a global scale and sets an international benchmark for a regulatory approach to online intermediaries.
The Digital Services legislation introduces a comprehensive new set of rules for online intermediary services on how they should design their services and procedures.
The new rules include new responsibilities to limit the distribution of illegal content and products online, to strengthen the protection of minors, to give users more choice and to improve information.
The obligations of the different online actors correspond to their role, size and impact in the online ecosystem.
All online intermediaries will have to comply with extensive new transparency obligations to increase accountability and control, for example a new reporting mechanism for illegal content.
A special regime is foreseen for platforms with more than 45 million users.
For these very large online platforms or search engines, additional obligations apply, including thorough annual assessments of the risks of online harm to their services, for example in relation to exposure to illegal goods or content or the spread of misinformation.
As part of the legislation on digital services, appropriate risk mitigation measures will need to be put in place and subject to independent audit of their services and mitigation measures.
Smaller platforms and start-ups will benefit from a reduced set of obligations, special derogations from certain rules and greater clarity and legal certainty, which is essential for the whole EU single market.
The new rules also protect the fundamental rights of users in the EU online environment.
New freedom of expression protections will limit arbitrary content moderation decisions by platforms and provide users with new means to take informed action against the platform when their content is moderated : for example, users of online platforms will now have multiple ways to challenge content moderation decisions, including when these decisions are based on the platforms’ terms and conditions.
Users can lodge a complaint directly with the platform, choose an alternative dispute resolution body, or seek reparation in court.
The new rules also require that platforms’ terms and conditions are presented in a clear and concise manner and respect users’ fundamental rights.
Very large online platforms and search engines will also have to carry out a full risk assessment of fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, protection of personal data, freedom and pluralism of online media and the rights of the child.
The digital services legislation creates an unprecedented level of public control of online platforms across the Union, both at national and EU level.
The Commission has the power to directly monitor very large online platforms and search engines, which individually affect more than 10% of the EU’s population, or around 45 million people.
In addition, each Member State will have to appoint a Digital Services Coordinator, who will oversee other entities falling within the scope of the digital services legislation as well as very large online platforms and search engines on non-systemic issues.
The national coordinators and the European Commission will cooperate through a European Digital Services Committee.
This EU-wide cooperation mechanism will be set up between the Commission’s national regulators.
The Commission is setting up a European Centre for Algorithm Transparency (ECAT) to support its supervisory rôle with internal and external multidisciplinary expertise.
Following the entry into force of the digital services legislation, online platforms will have 3 months to report the number of active end-users (17 February 2023) on their websites.
The Commission also invites all online platforms to notify it of the published numbers.
On the basis of these user numbers, the Commission will assess whether a platform should be designated as a very large online platform or a very large search engine.
EU Member States will have to empower their digital services coordinators by 17 February 2024, the general date of application of the digital services legislation, which will then be fully applicable to all entities falling within its scope.