The Digital Markets Act promises to free people from digital walled gardens

March 28, 2022
Platform Power

Last night, 24 March, the European Union made a great step forward to better protecting our rights online as it approved the political trilogue compromise for the Digital Markets Act (DMA). This decision promises to challenge the strongly centralised environment of Big Tech platforms exerting too much power over our rights and over the flow of information in society. Tech companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple will have to start following strict rules that ensure free and fair competition in the digital markets.

Following intense discussions and months of advocacy and campaigning from civil society, negotiators from the European Parliament, the French Presidency of the Council of the EU and the European Commission agreed on the final version of the DMA. In effect, this legislation will contribute to reining in Big Tech’s grip on people’s experience online as well as on some of the major digital markets.

From a human rights perspective, this is a major win to ensure the protection of people’s rights and enable open, fair, competitive digital spaces.

“The DMA will put an end to some of the most harmful practices of Big Tech and narrow the power imbalance between people and online platforms. If correctly implemented, the new agreement will empower individuals to choose more freely the type of online experience and society we want to build in the digital era.”

– Diego Naranjo, Head of Policy, EDRi

Civil society has successfully pushed for a DMA that builds on existing data protection rules under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). As a result, the DMA will protect people’s data from being used across several gatekeeper services like Gmail, YouTube, Facebook and WhatsApp, without a person’s explicit consent.

According to French State Secretary and DMA chief negotiator for the Council, Cédric O, there was an agreement between negotiating bodies to include a ban on the use of sensitive personal data for surveillance advertising in the Digital Services Act (DSA). While this DMA deal will limit some of the worst data use practices of the surveillance ads industry, EDRi will continue to advocate for a complete phase-out of surveillance-based online advertising in Europe.

EDRi is pleased about the inclusion of interoperability requirements for instant messaging services of gatekeepers. Under the new rules, gatekeepers that offer messaging services will be required to allow their users to connect and communicate with people on similar services while preserving the privacy protection afforded by end-to-end encryption. This interoperability requirement will empower people to move away from the dominant gatekeeper’s service without losing their secure connections with friends and family who decide to stay there. It will also enable the creation of a whole new ecosystem of interoperable chat apps that work in the interest of their users rather than for the benefit of advertisers and data brokers.

It is disappointing, however, to see that the final DMA compromise allows gatekeepers an unnecessarily long transition period to introduce the interoperability of voice calls and group chats. Both features are considered by users to be irreplaceable standards in chat apps and their absence is likely to seriously limit the benefit of the whole obligation.

The DMA will also empower the European Commission to add additional obligations for gatekeepers in the future, notably an interoperability obligation on social networks like Facebook. We hope the European Commission will consider using this power soon.

Now, it is vital that the Council and the European Parliament approve the negotiated political compromise and ensure that people’s rights are put before Big Tech’s corporate interests and profit.

“The DMA is a major step towards limiting the tremendous market power that today’s gatekeeper tech firms have. We must now make sure that the new obligations not to re-use personal data and the prohibition of using sensitive data for surveillance advertising are respected and properly enforced by the European Commission. Only then will the change be felt by people who depend on digital services every day.”

– Jan Penfrat, Senior Policy Advisor, EDRi
Platform Power