A new European Regulation 2022/2065 of the European Parliament and the Council concerning digital services, known as the Digital Service Act (hereafter DSA), came into force on Friday, August 25, 2023.
This regulation can be characterized as revolutionary in the world of digital services.
In fact, the first DSA regulation of October 19, 2022, together with the Digital Market Regulation (DMA), are both considered to be major digital projects for the European Union.
The obligations set out in these texts are due to come into force on February 17, 2024.
The very large online platforms and search engines are affected earlier, from August 25, 2023.
The aim is to protect EU citizens against counterfeiting, manipulation, hate, harassment, scams and other online nonsense.
Furthermore, Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, commented that:
“Europe is now the first jurisdiction in the world where online platforms no longer enjoy a ‘free pass’ and set their own rules”.
The “Digital Services Act” provides for numerous measures, graduated according to the nature of online players’ services and their size.
Very large platforms and search engines are subject to stricter requirements.
All online players will have to designate a single point of contact or, if established outside the EU, a legal representative, and cooperate with national authorities in the event of an injunction.
Similarly, online platforms will have to offer users a tool enabling them to easily report illegal content.
Once reported, they must promptly remove or block access to illegal content.
This status is awarded in each country to entities or organizations on the basis of their expertise and skills.
Platforms must also make their content moderation decisions more transparent.
They must provide for an internal complaints handling system enabling users whose accounts have been suspended or terminated to contest this decision.
To settle disputes, users can also turn to independent, certified bodies in European countries, or appeal to their national judges.
Platforms must also explain the algorithms they use to recommend certain advertising content based on user profiles.
Very large platforms and search engines must offer a content recommendation system that is not based on profiling and provide the public with a register of advertisements containing various types of information.
Targeted advertising to minors will be banned on all platforms, as will advertising based on sensitive data such as political opinions, religion, or sexual orientation (unless explicit consent is given).
Deceptive interfaces known as “user traps” and practices designed to mislead users are prohibited.
The services concerned are the very large platforms designated by the European Commission on April 25, 2023, on the basis of the user data they were required to publish.
In addition, they include Internet service providers, cloud computing services, online platforms such as marketplaces, app stores, social networks, content sharing platforms, travel and accommodation platforms and very large online platforms and search engines, used by over 45 million Europeans per month, designated by the European Commission.
The nineteen biggest social networks, marketplaces and other Internet search engines (AliExpress, Amazon Store, AppStore, Booking.com, Facebook, Google Play, Google Maps, Google Search, Google Shopping, Instagram, LinkedIn, Microsoft Bing, Pinterest, Snapchat, TikTok, Wikipedia, X – formerly Twitter -, YouTube, Zalando) must comply with this European legislation on digital services, forcing them to better regulate their content.
Objectives of the DSA
The overall intention of the DSA is to make digital platforms more accountable and combat the distribution of illegal or harmful content, better protect European Internet users and their fundamental rights, help small businesses to develop, strengthen democratic control and oversight of very large platforms, and mitigate their systemic risks.
The legislation on digital services aims to put into practice the principle that what is illegal offline is illegal online.
The regulation lays down a set of rules to make digital platforms more accountable and combat the dissemination of illicit or harmful content or illegal products: racist attacks, child pornography images, disinformation, the sale of drugs or counterfeit goods.
Online platforms must offer Internet users a tool that makes it easy to report illegal content.
Platforms must set up an internal complaint handling system, explain how their algorithms work and prohibit targeted advertising to minors.
They must also analyze every year the systemic risks they generate (on online hate and violence, fundamental rights, civic discourse, electoral processes, public health, etc.) and take the necessary measures to mitigate them.
These platforms will also be required to carry out independent risk reduction audits every year, under the supervision of the European Commission.
The 27 coordinators (from the member states: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden) will be responsible for monitoring compliance with the DSA regulation in their countries, and for receiving complaints against online intermediaries.
They will cooperate within a “European Digital Services Committee”, which will provide analyses, conduct joint investigations in several countries and issue recommendations on the application of the new regulation.
In particular, the committee will recommend that the Commission activate the crisis response mechanism.
The very large online platforms and search engines will be monitored by the European Commission.
To finance this monitoring, they will be charged a “supervision fee” of up to 0.05% of their annual worldwide sales.
Failure to comply with the DSA may result in penalty payments and sanctions.
For very large platforms and search engines, the Commission may impose fines of up to 6% of their worldwide sales.
In the event of serious and repeated breaches of the regulation, platforms could be banned from operating on the European market.