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Explained: How the EU’s new Digital Services Act affects internet users in Europe

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The Local ([email protected])
Explained: How the EU’s new Digital Services Act affects internet users in Europe
An illustration picture showing the logos of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft displayed on a mobile phone and a laptop screen. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

The EU's Digital Services Act came into effect on Friday - here's what is in it and what it means for internet users in EU countries.

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Nineteen so-called Very Large Online Platforms and Very Large Online Search Engines operating within the EU are, as of Friday, August 25th, bound by new European Union legislation known as the Digital Services Act (DSA).

Facebook, Google, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), Amazon, Snapchat, YouTube, and Microsoft are among 19 internet big beasts covered by the new rules. 

These internet platforms are used by more than 45 million European residents every month, according to official figures.

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From February 2024, every online platform, regardless of the number of users, will have to comply with a sliding scale of regulations or face fines.

But, for now, the rules apply only to the largest online operators, the likes of Amazon Store, Apple AppStore, Bing, Booking.com, Facebook, Google Maps, Google Play, Google Search, Google Shopping, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, TikTok, Wikipedia, X, Youtube, and Zalando.

“These systemic platforms play a very, very important role in our daily life and it is really the time now for Europe, for us, to set our own rules,” EU industry commissioner Thierry Breton, said in a video posted online.

Companies will come under annual audits and those that breach the law could face fines of up to six percent of annual global turnover.

Google, Meta and Bing and LinkedIn's owner Microsoft have all announced changes to comply with the rules - while X owner Elon Musk tweeted that the platform formerly known as Twitter was "working hard" to comply.

Under the new rules these firms will be held more responsible for content on their platforms and give users greater control over their ‘digital experience’. 

The Digital Services Act is intended to help internet users have more control over what they see online: they will have better information over why specific content is recommended to them and will be able to choose an option that does not include profiling. 

It contains rules intended to ensure that products sold online are safe and follow the highest standards set in the EU.

Targeted advertising will be banned for minors and the use of sensitive data, such as sexual orientation, religion or ethnicity, won’t be allowed.

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Among other things, DSA rules stipulate that:

  • Users will get clear information on why certain information is recommended to them, and they will have the right to opt-out from recommendations based on profiling;
  • Users will be able to report illegal content easily and platforms have to process such reports diligently;
  • Advertisements cannot be displayed based on sensitive data of the user, such as ethnic origin, political opinions or sexual orientation;
  • Platforms need to label all ads and inform users who is promoting them;
  • Platforms must provide an easily understandable, plain-language summary of their terms and conditions, in the languages of the EU Member States where they operate and enforce them diligently and non-arbitrarily;
  • Platforms will have to redesign their systems to ensure a high level of privacy, security, and safety for minors, and advertising based on profiling towards children is forbidden;
  • Platforms will have to redesign their services, including their interfaces, recommender systems, terms and conditions, to mitigate the risk of negative effects on mental health.
  • Platforms and search engines need to address risks linked to the dissemination of illegal content and to negative effects on freedom of expression and information;
  • Platforms need to put in place measures to address the spread of disinformation and inauthentic use of their service;
  • Platforms’ DSA obligations must be externally and independently audited;
  • They will have to give access to publicly available data to researchers - a special mechanism for vetted researchers will be established;
  • They have to publish repositories of all the ads served on their interface;
  • Platforms need to publish transparency reports on content moderation decisions and risk management.

Further changes to EU rules are coming, when the Digital Markets Act comes into force on September 6th. 

Under this law, currently unnamed online ‘gatekeepers’ - likely to include Google’s parent company Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, ByteDance - which owns TikTok - Meta, Microsoft and Samsung - will be subject to tougher competition regulation.

Among other rules, they will be forbidden from ranking services and products that they offer higher than similar services or products offered by third parties. 

They must also allow users to uninstall any preinstalled software.

The EU has been at the forefront of regulating the big tech giants, but it also allows member states to impose their own national rules - for example France has banned Amazon from offering free delivery on books, in order to protect independent book stores. 

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