Around the world, as regulators look to rein in Big Tech, like the ongoing digital platforms inquiry in Australia, online platforms will face a raft of new rules in the EU.
Known as the Digital Services Act, it’s a comprehensive set of regulations for digital services and content in the Eurozone.
Like GDPR, the Digital Services Act is expected to lead the way for other countries to provide some rules around how digital services function, with everything from algorithms to online marketplaces, social networks, content-sharing platforms, app stores and online travel and accommodation platforms included.
The Digital Services Act sets out clear due diligence obligations for digital platforms and other online intermediaries with measures for cooperation with trusted flaggers and competent authorities on content moderation, and measures to deter rogue traders from reaching consumers.
Trusted flaggers are agencies and organisations that have suitable expertise to be able to flag, or identity, content that is inaccurate or material that violates guidelines.
This is intended to provide better transparency requirements for online platforms about decisions on content removal and moderation, and advertising.
A competent authority is an organisation or other entity that has legally delegated or invested authority to act on things such as identifying dangerous goods.
Under the new rules, for instance, users can flag illegal content and have a clear means of contesting platforms' content moderation, both to the platform and through out-of-court mechanisms in their country. There will also be fines for not disclosing who’s behind political ads, penalties for hate speech and so on.
Digital markets regulation is the other part of the picture
The Digital Services Act goes hand in hand with the Digital Markets Act, that aims to support fair and open digital markets.
Together, the two sets of regulations will form the centrepiece of the EU digital strategy.
The goal is to protect users from illegal goods, inappropriate content or unlawful services and enshrine their fundamental rights.
With the Digital Markets Act, the EU wants to address uneven market power across digital platforms to enable innovation and growth through improved competitiveness, in the EU and more broadly.
It wants to limit how dominant online platforms can misuse their market power in their role as “gatekeepers" that control access to digital markets and instruct platforms to behave in a fair way online.
Questions around the proposed set of regulations
This new set of regulations doesn’t replace the e-Commerce Directive, which remains the cornerstone legal framework for all digital services in the EU, and includes online advertising, entertainment services, selling and information services. It seeks to define and limit specific online dominance.
While digital rights organisations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Access Now have welcomed the intervention, they have also warned against the provisions for influencer and politician social media accounts to receive special advantages compared to ordinary users.
The groups have also argued against governmental and law enforcement agencies becoming trusted flaggers where platforms must treat their notices with priority.
Instead, they want trusted flaggers to be independent from online platforms.
Questions have also been raised about what agency will be responsible for enforcing the impending regulations across ecommerce and social media platforms, with some critics saying GDPR has been a successful policy but an enforcement failure.
In Australia, while the Australia Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is examining many aspects of the dominance of digital platforms, it’s not taking the same overarching regulatory approach, instead examining content sharing, web browsers, digital ad services, and social media and online platforms across numerous inquiries. It does agree that more national and global action is needed to protect privacy, competition and consumer protections.
“The world has now recognised the impact of the digital platforms’ market power and the impact this has on consumers, news, businesses and society more broadly,” said ACCC chair Rod Sims.