On December 15, 2020, the EU Commission published its Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a Single Market For Digital Services (Digital Services Act) and amending Directive 2000/31/EC. The text consists of 74 provisions and contains some very interesting proposals for better regulation of the constantly evolving digital world.
The explanatory memorandum to the proposal specified that since the adoption of Directive 2000/31/EC (the “e-Commerce Directive”), new and innovative information society (digital) services have emerged, changing the daily lives of Union citizens and shaping and transforming how they communicate, connect, consume and do business. Those services have contributed deeply to societal and economic transformations in the Union and across the world. At the same time, their use has also become the source of new risks and challenges, both for society as a whole and the individuals using them. Digital services can support achieving Sustainable Development Goals by contributing to economic, social and environmental sustainability. The coronavirus crisis has shown the importance of digital technologies in all aspects of modern life. It has shed light on the dependency of our economy and society on digital services and highlighted both the benefits and the risks stemming from the current framework for their functioning. Indeed, in the Communication ‘Shaping Europe’s Digital Future’, the Commission committed to update the horizontal rules that define the responsibilities and obligations of providers of digital services, and online platforms in particular. In doing so, the Commission has taken account of the issues identified in the European Parliament’s own initiative reports and analysed the proposals therein.
Over the past five years, the Commission has consulted a wide range of different stakeholders, including providers of digital services such as online platforms and other intermediary services, businesses trading online, media publishers, brand owners and other businesses, social partners, users of digital services, civil society organisations, national authorities, academia, the technical community, international organisations and the general public. An array of targeted consultation steps have captured thoroughly stakeholder views on issues related to digital services and platforms over the last years. The open public consultation on the Digital Services Act was open for 14 weeks, between 2nd of June and 8th of September and received 2,863 responses and around 300 position papers from a diverse group of stakeholders. Most feedback was submitted by the general public (66% from Union citizens, 8% from non-EU citizens), companies/ businesses organizations (7.4%), business associations (6%), and NGOs (5.6%). This was followed by public authorities (2.2%), academic/research institutions (1.2%), trade unions (0.9%), and consumer and environmental organisations (0.4%). Overall, there is a general agreement amongst stakeholders for a need for action, both in addressing online safety and in furthering the internal market for digital services.
The project’s key goals are aimed at all stakeholders in the digital environment. The Commission has underlined that the proposed new rules are proportionate, foster innovation, growth and competitiveness, and facilitate the scaling up of smaller platforms, SMEs and start-ups. The responsibilities of users, platforms, and public authorities are rebalanced according to European values, placing citizens at the centre. The rules allow to better protect consumers and their fundamental rights online while establishing powerful transparency and a clear accountability framework for online platforms and fostering innovation, growth and competitiveness within the single market.
New obligations are imposed to intermediary services offering network infrastructure: Internet access providers, domain name registrars; hosting services such as cloud and Webhosting services; online platforms bringing together sellers and consumers such as online marketplaces, app stores, collaborative economy platforms and social media platforms as well as very large online platforms as they pose particular risks in the dissemination of illegal content and societal harms.
► measures to counter illegal goods, services or content online, such as a mechanism for users to flag such content and for platforms to cooperate with “trusted flaggers”;
► new obligations on traceability of business users in online market places, to help identify sellers of illegal goods;
► effective safeguards for users, including the possibility to challenge platforms’ content moderation decisions;
► transparency measures for online platforms on a variety of issues, including on the algorithms used for recommendations;
► obligations for very large platforms to prevent the misuse of their systems by taking risk-based action and by independent audits of their risk management systems;
► access for researchers to key data of the largest platforms, in order to understand how online risks evolve;
► oversight structure to address the complexity of the online space: EU countries will have the primary role, supported by a new European Board for Digital Services; enhanced supervision and enforcement by the Commission are foreseen for very large platforms.
A comprehensive summary of the proposed Digital Services Act is available on the Commission’s website.