European Parliament adopts position on Digital Services Act

Crucial update of decades old e-commerce directive takes on Big Tech, promising to “take back control of the internet”.
Cristian Storto | Alamy Stock Photo

By Andreas Rogal

Andreas Rogal is a senior journalist at the Parliament Magazine

21 Jan 2022

The European Parliament has adopted its much-discussed report on the EU’s plans for a Digital Services Act.

The report, drafted by Danish Internal Market and Consumer Affairs (IMCO) Committee member Christel Schaldemose passed with a large majority - 530 votes to 78, with 80 abstentions on Thursday.

In an official Parliament press release, the Danish Socialist deputy commented that the vote showed that MEPs and EU citizens wanted an “ambitious digital regulation fit for the future”.

The lead rapporteur added that, compared to two decades ago, “online platforms have become increasingly important in our daily life, bringing new opportunities, but also new risks”. EU legislators she explained therefore needed to “ensure that we put in place digital rules to the benefit of consumers and citizens.”

With seven more European Parliament committees involved, the assembly’s proposals have aimed for what the ECR Group’s IMCO shadow, Adam Bielan (PL), approvingly called in the plenary debate on Wednesday before the vote, “a horizontal approach”.

"We need to ensure that we put in place digital rules to the benefit of consumers and citizens.”

Christel Schaldemose, MEP

Similarly, the centre-right EPP Group’s IMCO shadow rapporteur Arba Kokalari (SE) told the Parliament Magazine that her aim during the extensive negotiations had been to achieve a “balanced horizontal regulation that harmonises the EU Digital Single Market and protects consumers from illegal content, while still enabling an open, diverse and innovative digital landscape”.

She added that “the compromise [report] adopted by the European Parliament reflects these priorities quite well”.

The new rules as proposed by Parliament would mean unprecedented regulation of the practices of the big online platforms, often called “gate keepers”, such as Google and Meta/Facebook and in particular issues including targeted advertising, algorithm transparency and the obligation to remove illegal content.

On restricting targeted advertising, the Greens/EFA Group’s IMCO shadow rapporteur Alexandra Geese commented in a Twitter thread of Friday that: “The new law for digital platforms bans the display of advertising based on sensitive data such as political or religious affiliation, ethnic origin or sexual orientation”.

She added: “This ban is ground-breaking and was fought hard by Google, Meta and co. It protects citizens from being systematically spied on by the internet giants in the future”.

Outside the “duopoly” mentioned above who have yet to issue statements, first reactions from the industry were mostly positive.

Owen Bennett of Mozilla, the not-for-profit technology company behind the Firefox web browser, called the proposals “a step closer to a better internet” in a press release on Thursday, adding: "We’re glad to see Parliament give researchers and oversight bodies what they need to identify hidden harms online, especially when it comes to online advertising”.

Owen concluded that "the Digital Services Act is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the EU to set Big Tech on a better course”.

“This ban is ground-breaking and was fought hard by Google, Meta and co. It protects citizens from being systematically spied on by the internet giants in the future”.

Alexandra Geese, MEP

Inside Parliament, most criticism of the adopted report came from some of the other committees involved.

For the Culture and Education (CULT) Committee, opinion rapporteur Sabine Verheyen (DE, EPP) found the final report lacking in precision regarding new obligations for the media industry, potentially threatening its freedom of expression - a view supported by Legal Affairs (JURI) committee opinion rapporteur Geoffroy Didier (FR, EPP).

The ID Group’s IMCO shadow Alessandra Basso (IT) also thought the proposals flawed in this respect. Calling the DSA “a wasted opportunity” she told this website that, “with the excuse of deeper controlling large online platforms our citizens’ freedom of expression is now at risk”.

She explained that “it will be the platform to decide, arbitrarily, whether to remove legal content; this power, combined with the almost impossible evaluation of some of the parameters that establish whether a content is considered harmful puts our citizens at a high risk”.

“The Digital Services Act is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the EU to set Big Tech on a better course”.

Owen Bennett, Mozilla Corporation

Parliament will now start negotiations with its co-legislator in the hope of concluding during French Council Presidency.

The Council had agreed on a general approach for the Digital Services Act (DSA) and its sister act, the Digital Markets Act (DMA) – adopted by Parliament in December – in late November, using the same slogan heard many times this week in the Strasbourg hemicycle: “what is illegal offline should also be illegal online”.

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