The European Union’s Digital Services Act (DSA) has officially gone into effect. Starting on August 25th, 2023, tech giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and more must comply with sweeping legislation that holds online platforms legally accountable for the content posted to them.
Even though this new law was passed in the EU, we’ll likely see far-reaching global effects as companies adjust their policies to comply. Here’s what exactly the DSA does and how the EU plans on enforcing it.
What is the Digital Services Act?
The overarching goal of the DSA is to foster safer online environments. Under the new rules, online platforms must implement ways to prevent and remove posts containing illegal goods, services, or content while simultaneously giving users the means to report this type of content.
Additionally, the DSA bans targeted advertising based on a person’s sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, or political beliefs and puts restrictions on targeting ads to children. It also requires online platforms to provide more transparency on how their algorithms work.
The DSA carves out additional rules for what it considers “very large online platforms,” forcing them to give users the right to opt out of recommendation systems and profiling, share key data with researchers and authorities, cooperate with crisis response requirements, and perform external and independent auditing.
The European Parliament passed the DSA in July 2022. While the EU doesn’t require smaller companies to comply with the DSA just yet, it asked very large online platforms to comply four months after their designation as such, which occurred in April.
Which online platforms are affected?
The EU considers very large online platforms (or very large online search engines) as those with over 45 million monthly users in the EU. So far, the EU has designed 19 platforms and search engines that fall into that category, including the following:
- Alibaba AliExpress
- Amazon Store
- Apple App Store
- Google Play
- Google Maps
- Google Shopping
- Google Search
The EU will require each of these platforms to update their user numbers at least every six months. If a platform has less than 45 million monthly users for an entire year, they’ll be removed from the list.
What are online platforms doing to comply?
Many of these companies have already outlined the ways in which they’re going to comply with the DSA. Here’s a brief overview of the most notable ones.
While Google says it already complies with some of the policies envisioned by the DSA, including the ability to give YouTube creators to appeal video removals and restrictions, Google announced that it’s expanding its Ads Transparency Center to meet the requirements outlined by the legislation.
The company also committed to expanding data access to researchers to provide more information about “how Google Search, YouTube, Google Maps, Google Play and Shopping work in practice.” It will also improve its transparency reporting and analyze potential “risks of illegal content dissemination, or risks to fundamental rights, public health or civic discourse.”
Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is working to expand its Ad Library, which currently compiles the ads shown on its platforms. The company will soon start displaying and archiving all the ads that target users in the EU while also including the parameters used to target the ads, as well as who was served the ad.
In June, Meta released a lengthy report about how its algorithm works across Facebook and Instagram as part of its push toward transparency. It will also start allowing European users to view content chronologically on Reels, Stories, and Search on both Facebook and Instagram — without being subject to its personalization engine.
Similar to the measures Meta is rolling out, TikTok has also announced that it’s making its algorithm optional for users in the EU. When the algorithm is disabled, users will see videos from “both the places where they live and around the world” in their For You and Live feeds instead of videos based on personal interests.
It will also enable users to view content chronologically on their Following and Friends feeds. TikTok is making some changes to its advertising policies as well. For European users aged 13 to 17, TikTok will stop showing personalized ads based on their activity in the app.
Snapchat will also give users in the EU the option to opt out of personalized feeds on its Discover and Spotlight pages and has also published reports on how it ranks the posts on these feeds. The company has committed to providing users with more information about why their posts or account has been removed and will give them the tools they need to appeal the decision.
In addition, Snapchat will no longer serve personalized ads to European Snapchat users aged 13 to 17. It will also create an archive of targeted advertisements it shows in the EU and will give European Snapchat users over the age of 18 more control over the ads they see.
What happens if these platforms don’t comply?
Online platforms that don’t comply with the DSA’s rules could see fines of up to 6 percent of their global turnover. According to the EU Commission, the Digital Services Coordinator and the Commission will have the power to “require immediate actions where necessary to address very serious harms.” A platform continually refusing to comply could result in a temporary suspension in the EU.
The EU is already seeing some companies push back on the DSA. In July, Amazon filed a petition that asks the EU to reevaluate its classification as a very large online platform, claiming that it’s getting “unfairly singled out.” German retailer Zalando also filed a lawsuit against the EU Commission, similarly claiming that it doesn’t meet the definition of a very large online platform.
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