Friday night’s political agreement on the Digital Services Act (DSA) is a good first step towards protecting people’s rights on the internet and to some extent limiting the immense power that Big Tech companies have over people and democracies.
EDRi welcomes the conclusion of a political agreement for the DSA on the night of 22nd to 23rd April. The DSA has the potential to serve as a global benchmark for how to regulate today’s hyper-centralised platform economy while also protecting people’s fundamental rights online, including freedom of expression and access to information, the rights to privacy, and non-discrimination.
In particular, we welcome the DSA’s appeals and redress mechanisms that will allow users to flag potentially illegal online content to hosting intermediaries, who in turn will be required to react through a transparent response process. Crucially, intermediaries will be able to carefully follow that process without being threatened by immediate legal liability at the expense of the rule of law, and without replacing independent judicial redress options for users.
“It’s relieving to see that EU legislators have learned from past mistakes such as the Copyright Directive, and in the DSA stayed away from creating a general monitoring obligation for online platforms,”Jan Penfrat, Senior Policy Advisor leading EDRi’s work on the DSA.
EDRi also welcomes the first timid steps taken by the EU to limit the harmful business model of surveillance advertising and prohibit some of the most deceptive interface design practices deployed by online platforms against their users. Such a move by the EU was unthinkable just a few years ago. EDRi and other civil society organisations have consistently raised lawmakers’ awareness of surveillance ads as one of the root causes of online harms and polarisation. It is regrettable, however, that the political agreement has watered down this much-needed systemic change to such an extent that it is unclear how much it will actually bring visible positive change for people.
“At EDRi, we have advocated hard for the DSA to enable a real transformation of the online advertising industry—away from cheating and spying on users and towards a safer, privacy-respecting ad ecosystem. While the DSA compromise will help phase out some of the worst practices of ad-driven online platforms, it can only be the starting point for more profound change,”Jan Penfrat
For example, the DSA’s prohibition of using highly sensitive personal data to target people with surveillance ads will be limited to online platforms only, and therefore leave the vast majority of ad networks embedded in common websites—as well as the data extraction industry behind it—untouched. Similarly, the prohibition of deceptive interface designs will likely exclude the most pervasive and annoying ones: cookie and tracking banners.
“Although the DSA’s final ad regulation is not perfect, at EDRi we are proud that we were able to help bring a ban of surveillance ads into the mainstream political debate in the EU”Diego Naranjo, Head of Policy at European Digital Rights.
As a human rights organisation EDRi has been very concerned about the new Crisis Response Mechanism that was added to the DSA at the 11th hour as a response to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. Temporary crises should not lead to permanent infrastructures of state control. While earlier versions of this mechanism would have given the EU Commission unchecked executive power to unilaterally declare an EU-wide state of ‘digital emergency’, it is not least thanks to a strong advocacy effort from EDRi and many other civil society organisations that, according to press reports, negotiators eventually built in a requirement for the Commission to obtain the green light of national independent platform regulators first.
“We celebrate today a first step to reduce the power of Big Tech companies, even though we would have preferred that both the DSA and DMA were more ambitious, the compromise reflects what was possible given the current political majorities. We will work towards advancing safeguards and rights during the implementation of the new rules and support strong enforcement by regulatory authorities. By doing so, we also aim at supporting real alternatives to the currently dominant surveillance business model.”Diego Naranjo
EDRi and its member organisations will continue to advocate legislation, policies and practices that uphold people’s rights and that shape the internet as an open, fair and inclusive digital environment for everyone.
- EDRi: A new crisis response mechanism for the DSA (2022)
- EDRi: Abolish manipulative dark patterns and creepy online ads, ask 72 civil society organisations (2022)
- EDRi: Surveillance-based advertising: An industry broken by design and by default (2021)
- EDRi: Digital Services Act: The EDRi guide to 2,297 amendment proposals (2021)