Online platforms in the EU: Digital Service Act in action

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The Digital Services Act, DSA determines very large platforms EU-wide with more than 45 million users; they have to meet special legal obligations. The EU digital law has already designated about 20 very large online platforms and search engines: the process will continue to meet customers’ intentions and make sure the necessary compliance with the obligations under the DSA. Creating a safer online environment for all customers has been an enforcement priority under the DSA. 

Digital Service Act: past and present
At the end of 2020, the Commission made the proposal on the DSA and at the same time suggested some legal actions to implement a broader initiative dealing with the EU-wide digital agenda, i.e. the Digital Markets Act (DMA). The DMA is seen as a comprehensive EU framework to ensure safer and fairer digital space. Following the political agreement reached by the EU co-legislators in April 2022, the DSA entered into force on 16 November 2022.
The DSA regulates online intermediaries and platforms such as marketplaces, social networks, content-sharing platforms, app stores, and online travel and accommodation platforms. Its main goal is to prevent illegal and harmful activities online and the spread of disinformation. It ensures user safety, protects fundamental rights, and creates a fair and open online platform environment. The DSA protects consumers and their fundamental rights online by setting clear and proportionate rules. It fosters innovation, growth and competitiveness, and facilitates the scaling up of smaller platforms, SMEs and start-ups. The roles of users, platforms, and public authorities are rebalanced according to European values, placing citizens at the centre.

  More on DSA in: https://commission.europa.eu/strategy-and-policy/priorities-2019-2024/europe-fit-digital-age/digital-services-act_en
DSA Regulation 2022/2065 in: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=uriserv%3AOJ.L_.2022.277.01.0001.01.ENG&toc=OJ%3AL%3A2022%3A277%3ATOC

  The DSA applies to all digital services that connect consumers to goods, services, or content. It creates comprehensive new obligations for online platforms to reduce harms and counter risks online, introduces strong protections for users’ rights online, and places digital platforms under a unique new transparency and accountability framework. Designed as a single, uniform set of rules for the EU, these rules will give users new protections and businesses legal certainty across the whole single market. The DSA is a first-of-a-kind regulatory toolbox globally and sets an international benchmark for a regulatory approach to online intermediaries.
Source: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_22_6906

  The DSA includes rules for online intermediary services, which millions of Europeans use every day. The obligations of different online players match their role, size and impact in the online ecosystem. All online intermediaries (four types mentioned below) are offering their services in the single market, whether they are established in the EU or outside, will have to comply with the new rules. Micro and small companies will have obligations proportionate to their ability and size while ensuring they remain accountable. In addition, even if micro and small companies grow significantly, they would benefit from a targeted exemption from a set of obligations during a transitional 12-month period.

Platforms’ classification
The DSA classifies platforms or search engines that have more than 45 million users per month in the EU as very large online platforms (VLOPs) or very large online search engines (VLOSEs). The Commission designates VLOPs or VLOSEs based on user numbers provided by platforms and search engines:
= Very large online platforms and search engines pose particular risks in the dissemination of illegal content and societal harms. Specific rules are foreseen for platforms reaching more than 10% of 450 million consumers in Europe.
= Online platforms bring together sellers and consumers such as online marketplaces, app stores, collaborative economy platforms and social media platforms.

= Hosting services such as cloud and web hosting services, which also include numerous online platforms.

= Intermediary services offering network infrastructure including internet access providers and domain name registrars (as well as hosting services).

In April 2023, the Commission designated first 19 Very Large Online Platforms and Search Engines. Starting from the end of August 2023, all VLOPs and VLOSEs must comply with the additional obligations under the DSA. By mid-February 2024, all platforms, with the exception of small and micro-enterprises, will have to comply with the general obligations introduced by the DSA: i.e. the DSA rules will apply to all platforms already in February 2024.
The supervision and enforcement of the DSA will be shared between the Commission and Digital Services Coordinators, which will be designated by the EU member states in February 2024.

  Note. The names of 19 Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) and 3 Very Large Online Search Engines –Pornhub, Stripchat and XVideos – (VLOSEs) that reach at least 45 million monthly active users are indicated in: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_23_2413 and https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_23_6763

Supervisory architecture
The DSA will be enforced through a pan-European supervisory architecture. While the Commission is the competent authority for supervising the designated platforms and search engines, it will work in close cooperation with the Digital Services Coordinators in the supervisory framework established by the DSA.
These national authorities, which are responsible as well for the supervision of smaller platforms and search engines, need to be established by EU Member States by mid-February 2024.
The same date is also the deadline by which all other platforms must comply with their obligations under the DSA and provide their users with protection and safeguards laid down in the DSA.
To enforce the DSA, the Commission is also bolstering its expertise with in-house and external multidisciplinary knowledge and recently launched the European Centre for Algorithmic Transparency (ECAT). The center is expected to provide support with assessments as to whether the functioning of algorithmic systems is in line with the risk management obligations.
The Commission is also setting up a digital enforcement system in order to bring together available expertise from all relevant socio-economic sectors.

Online platforms’ compliance with DSA
All online platforms and search engines functioning in the EU have to comply with the general DSA obligations by 17 February 2024; among main provisional obligations are the following:
= Providing user-friendly mechanisms to allow users or entities to notify illegal content;
= Prioritizing the treatment of notices submitted by so-called “trusted flaggers”;
= Providing the “statements of reasons” to users when their content is restricted or removed;
= Providing an internal complaint-handling system for users to appeal content moderation decisions;
= Promptly informing state’ law enforcement authorities if they become aware of any information giving rise to a suspicion that a criminal offence involving a threat to the life or safety of a person has taken place, is taking place or is likely to take place, including in the case of child sexual abuse;
= Redesigning national digital systems to ensure a high level of privacy, security and safety of minors;
= Ensuring that their interfaces are not designed in a way that deceives or manipulates the users;
= Clearly labeling advertisement on their interfaces;
= Avoiding presentation of targeted advertisement based on profiling of sensitive data (such as ethnic origin, political opinions or sexual orientation), or targeted at minors;
= Having clear terms and conditions, as well as acting in a diligent, objective and proportionate manner when applying the digital services; and
= Publishing once a year transparency reports on their content moderation processes.
In addition to the general provisions in the DSA, within four months of their designation as VLOPs, the “adopted” search engines (Pornhub, XVideos and Stripchat) will also have to adopt specific measures to empower and protect users online, including minors, and duly assess and mitigate any systemic risks stemming from their services.

General source: Commission press release at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_23_6763

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