The European Union is planning to unveil its Digital Services Act (DSA) on Friday, according to the Financial Times. The DSA is a landmark law that will hold Big Tech companies accountable for the illegal content posted on their platforms — they will be required to put in place mechanisms to ensure the content is removed in a timely fashion.
The DSA was approved by the European Parliament’s committee earlier this year, but it is still under interinstitutional negotiations between the parliament, the Commission and the Member states. While the bulk of the proposal has already been agreed upon, there is still room for last-minute changes, as may be the case here.
The DSA will set the rules for how Big Tech should keep users safe online. For instance, under the DSA, dark patterns, manipulative techniques that lead people to unwillingly click on some content, will be banned. According to the FT, it was Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s executive vice-president in charge of digital policy, who announced that she was hopeful of a breakthrough on Friday.
Yesterday, April 20, the European Parliament held a hearing where Christel Schaldemose, the MEP rapporteur of the DSA, updated the parliament on the state of the interinstitutional negotiations.
As a result of the negotiations, new provisions have been added to the text — some of these will likely be approved smoothly, but others may still find opposition among different political parties. In this regard, the new text may include new safeguards for children that will likely go through, like forcing platforms to provide terms and conditions that a minor can understand.
However, there are other additions that may prove to be more problematic. For example, search engines may now need to comply with this law, increasing the liability for companies like Google. This last-minute proposal, discussed during the Easter break, would require that search engines remove illegal content once it is flagged to them. The main problem with this proposal is that it risks going beyond its original purpose. For instance, depending on the scope of this provision, search engines may have to remove the illegal content not only from the specific website where this content was posted, but in all search results that refers to that content. This would force search engines into a general monitoring obligation, a principle rejected in the Copyright Directive.
This and other provisions may still raise discussion among European parliamentarians, which could delay a final agreement beyond Friday, April 22.
While Big Tech firms such as Google and Facebook will have to comply with the rules once they are enacted, medium-sized platforms will have a grace period until they are required to fully comply with the law. Additionally, large platforms will have to pay fees to fund the supervision of the implementation of this law. According to people with knowledge of the matter, this could represent around €20-30 million annually for each large platform.
U.K. Moved Online Safety Bill To May
Also this week, on April 19, 2022, the U.K. Parliament debated the Online Safety Bill on its second reading, a legal text very similar to the DSA that seeks to curb online harms by significantly increasing the responsibilities of Big Tech firms to monitor content posted on their platforms.
One of the main differences with the DSA is that the Online Safety Bill will force Big Tech not only to remove illegal content like the DSA, but also legal content that is harmful. This content will be defined in secondary legislation.
The U.K. Parliament didn’t reach any meaningful conclusion or add new provisions on Tuesday, and it voted to “carry over” the bill into the next Parliament, which begins with the State Opening on May 10. The government may push for this bill to have its second reading in the House of Lords before the summer break.