The European Parliament has passed the Digital Services Act (DSA), a landmark regulation that sets rules for internet platforms across the European Union.
The DSA is a promising step forward in respecting online rights. It introduces important measures to increase transparency by requiring platforms to explain to users how they moderate content, how automated tools are used and how many content moderators they use for each official EU language. The law also aims to subject major platforms to external scrutiny by giving access to data to researchers, including non-governmental organizations, and requiring annual third-party audits to assess their compliance with the regulations.
The DSA is expected to have significant consequences for human rights online and offline in the EU and potentially beyond due to its potential to inspire legislation in other regions and set standards that businesses can apply globally.
The new rules begin to address some of the most systemic damage caused by dominant platforms. They need platforms to assess and mitigate the systemic risks, real and foreseeable, of certain human rights abuses arising from the design, algorithms, operation and use of their services in the EU. The DSA is also taking action to curb some of the most invasive forms of surveillance-based advertising, which is central to the dominant platforms’ business model.
While the DSA has avoided some typical regulatory pitfalls – like unrealistic deadlines for platforms to remove potentially illegal content – it also fails in some important respects.
As Human Rights Watch has pointed out, the DSA should have been more ambitious and introduced stronger safeguards to protect people’s rights by closing loopholes that could expand government censorship, attacking more directly the business model based on monitoring dominant platforms and adopting a more holistic approach. to due diligence. The final text also includes some problematic shortcomings, such as allowing the use of “trade secrets” to justify not providing researchers with access to data.
Despite these shortcomings, the DSA has the potential to better protect people’s rights, but only if its application is strong. In particular, the European Commission – which will be responsible for supervising, investigating, enforcing and monitoring large online platforms, including imposing sanctions – will need significant resources and expertise. .
Finally, since the DSA will force very large companies like Meta and Google to be more transparent and provide remedies to EU users, the measures put in place to comply with the new rules should be extended to people who depend of their platforms and services around the world.