Why the new digital legislation of the European Commission may change the rules of the game

“Milestone”, “powerful” and “ambitious” are just some of the expressions with which industry insiders have described the digital legislation project that the European Commission is going to present this Tuesday.

Although the details of the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA) are yet to be finalized, if they are adopted, they will undoubtedly have huge implications for both EU-based digital service providers as well as non-bloc companies serving European users, including high tech users.

These are the reasons why new European legislation can break the board.

The EU could define change as a political leader

The European Commission, under Ursula Von der Leyen, has promised to make a “Europe fit for the digital age”.

And many in the industry see this as an opportunity for Europe to write the digital rulebook if it plays its cards right.

“With this proposal, the EU has a chance to go ahead,” Jan Penfrat, political adviser for European Digital Rights (EDRi), a European network of NGOs that defends digital rights, told Euronews.

“I hope that the DMA / DSA will put us on a path in which the EU can be a world leader in this matter, in a similar way to what it has done with the GDPR (regulation in EU legislation on data protection and privacy), “he added.

The political adviser notes that the United States has focused on antitrust law, but said this has proven too slow and not strong enough to curb the kind of power that big tech companies have.

Long ago it should have been like this

Although in the last two decades there have been technological advances that have changed the lives of Europeans, the EU legislation that governs the responsibilities of platforms – such as social networks – when they host other people’s content has hardly changed.

The DSA package of laws aims to revise the old rules called the Electronic Commerce Directive, which have not been updated in the last two decades.

“In the last 20 years, the Internet has changed enormously. It makes perfect sense to update those rules,” Penfrat said.

It could affect the fundamental rights of citizens, including freedom of expression

“Both ASD and ASD have the potential to positively and negatively influence people’s ability to enjoy their human rights,” according to Penfrat.

Freedom of expression is one of the most obvious examples in this regard: no regulation would mean that people’s ability to participate in public debate would be essentially determined by companies that could establish their own participation rules.

But if the proposal were to say, for example, that every platform that hosts people’s speech would have to have mandatory technologies to algorithmically determine potentially illegal speech before it is uploaded, this could lead the tech giants to leak many more comments are needed to avoid costly liability issues, according to Penfrat.

“I really would not want to be in the place of the European Commission at this time,” he added. “We need to find smart solutions that protect the fundamental rights of people because the Internet is not going to disappear.”

The EU could face the monopoly of the tech giants

“From what we hear, the European Commission is going to try to strengthen its capacity and that of other authorities to intervene if the big tech companies have too powerful a position in the market,” Penfrat explained.

In fact, the European Court of Auditors recently said that the EU had been ineffective in limiting Facebook and Google from destroying their competitors and that it needed to revise its rules to adapt them to the digital age.

Various reports leading up to the proposal’s submission said the bill could result in the tech giants fined up to 10% of their turnover for serious competition violations.

Penfrat said the new law should allow the bloc to take a proactive rather than reactive role in areas of the digital sector where powerful players have a “monopoly position” that hurts the market.

“We don’t have to wait for the damage to be done. We can act immediately … before other market players are damaged,” he added.

Messaging between apps might be mandatory

Perhaps a less pronounced change that could make people’s lives easier if included in legislation is mandatory compatibility between apps.

“The commission wants to propose a kind of blacklist of things that none of the big access control companies would be allowed to do,” Penfrat explained.

Among other more technical standards, he believes that the Commission could propose an obligation for a company to make its services interoperable with its competitors.

As for messaging providers, this would mean you could send a message from the industry-leading WhatsApp platform to Viber, for example.

“WhatsApp maintains its dominant position in the market, mainly because they already have a huge user base,” Penfrat said.

However, if proposed, mandatory interoperability would mean that a new messaging service could decide to allow its users to send messages to WhatsApp and vice versa.