DSA: a more sustainable digital single market

The digital environment has changed out of all recognition in recent years; it is now a central part of our daily lives. Let’s ensure current legislation reflects this new reality, writes Alex Agius Saliba.
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By Alex Agius Saliba

Alex Agius Saliba (MT, S&D) is the European Parliament’s rapporteur for the Digital Services Act Report

11 Dec 2020

Over the last two decades, better digital transformation has profoundly changed the global economy and society. Digital services have become the new utilities, and their importance for our social and economic lives will continue to grow.

Shopping, connecting with friends and family, sharing experiences, watching a movie, listening to music, reading a book, booking a trip - those are all everyday activities. And for each of these activities, there is one or multiple online platforms and digital services.

When we adopted the eCommerce Directive 20 years ago, many digital services and platforms like Google, Amazon or Booking were in their infancy or did not yet exist. Now, lockdowns due to the COVID pandemic have reinforced the role of online platforms. People have shifted their habits towards the online world to make their businesses and purchases and to work, learn and socialise.

“When we adopted the eCommerce Directive 20 years ago, many digital services and platforms like Google, Amazon or Booking were in their infancy or did not yet exist”

COVID-19 has driven an upsurge in both online eCommerce and an increase in scams, unfair practices and other illegalities of multiple formats. The crisis has exposed the system’s existing gaps and vulnerabilities, allowing dishonest services and traders to abuse peoples’ current insecurities.

We need targeted measures for online market places such as Amazon and Alibaba. European consumers should be equally safe, whether shopping online or in stores. They shouldn’t be exposed to illegal, counterfeit, and unsafe products containing dangerous chemicals and safety hazards. We should protect people and European companies from harmful online business models, manipulation, and discriminatory practices.

Such models are designed to amplify and attract user attention for the platform and - based on the increased traffic and ‘clicks’ - amplify illegal or sensationalist content, such as hate speech or misinformation. We need a set of ambitious measures and actions in the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA) proposals to regulate these harmful practices and business models. For example, we need KYBC - “Know your business customer” - provisions at the European Union level.

This will require platforms to prevent fraudulent companies from using their services to sell their illegal and unsafe products or distribute their harmful content to users and consumers in Europe. Such a measures will help address problems with disinformation, misleading or illegal content and the sale of unsafe and fake products online.

Another way to address harmful practices is through stricter provisions targeting harmful advertising practices, digital nudging, microtargeting, recommended systems for advertisement and preferential treatment. We need information on the advertiser’s identity, opt-ins for the use of behavioural data and political advertising and opt-outs for microtargeted tracking.

Manipulative practices of targeting people because of their age, gender, religion, sexual orientation and race, or simply because they have been identified by algorithms as “insecure”, “vulnerable” or “worthless” must stop. Big companies, such as Facebook and YouTube, have come under fire more than once for such practices. That is why we need an oversight and risk assessment of algorithms by competent authorities and accountability and fairness criteria so that such systems are non-discriminatory and transparent.

These problems are not new, but now is high time to address them. An opportunity presents itself with the DSA and DMA to set the record straight and create a safer digital environment. With these, we aim to shape the digital economy at EU level and become a standard-setter for the rest of the world. We should seek to create a digital environment built on trust, choice and a high level of protection for all consumers, citizens and SMEs.

“We need legislative initiatives to strengthen and improve the digital economy, protect consumers, and ensure values-based innovation and fair competition”

We need legislative initiatives to strengthen and improve the digital economy, protect consumers, and ensure values-based innovation and fair competition. Ambitious measures that will preserve and safeguard citizens’ and consumers’ rights and guarantee a better, safer digital environment with real, tangible rules in a virtual world dictated - to date - by the tech giants. We should ensure that companies established outside the EU that target our markets, citizens and consumers abide by the European rules.

For example, a solution that would have immediate tangible benefits for consumers, companies, and the environment would be a universal European charger, one that works with a wide range of mobile devices. This would make it easier to re-use old electronics, save money, and reduce unnecessary costs to the consumer and the environment. Those are the type of solutions we need in the digital environment.

The Digital Single Market is all around us and will continue to evolve and change in the future, and so is European digital policy. One could only hope that the DSA is as successful as the eCommerce Directive in withstanding the next few decades’ digital challenges. Still, it will not be the end for me, and I will continue working for a more sustainable digital single market and services.

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