On the usefulness of Europe to regulate digital

Apparently the European Union (EU) has been so prompt. Less than eighteen months after being presented to the European Parliament, the new digital services regulation, the Digital Services Act (DSA), came into force on Friday 25 August. This device obliges the major platforms on the Internet (social networks, search engines, merchant sites, etc.) to regulate their content and practices.

After the implementation, five years ago, of the general regulation on data protection and that on the digital market (Digital Markets Act) in May, the European Commission now has a large arsenal of standards to regulate the power of the Internet giants.

Brussels has avoided the trap of setting itself up as a ubiquitous policeman attacking head-on all forms of disinformation, harassment or manipulation of opinion, a challenge that is far too protean to be able to fight effectively. It will be up to Internet players themselves to enforce the rules laid down by Brussels and prevent any overflows, under penalty of heavy financial penalties, or even exclusion from the European market. The EU reveals here all its usefulness: it has an economic and legal weight essential to limit the power of the platforms, which no national regulator is able to do.

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Internet giants will thus be required to remove potentially problematic content which, in the real world, already falls under the law. It is also a question of preventing their massive distribution by controlling the way in which this content is selected and highlighted by their algorithms. Finally, players will have to be more transparent with users on content recommendations and advertising targeting. They may even opt out under certain conditions. Not to mention reversing the balance of power, it is a necessary rebalancing.

obsession with profit
The EU thus becomes the first state entity to try to find the right balance between the laissez-faire attitude that prevails in the United States and the authoritarian and protectionist censorship exercised by the Chinese regime of Xi Jinping. The European initiative, for a time interpreted as an admission of powerlessness, for lack of being able to compete with its own Internet champions, ended up imposing itself as obvious in view of the excesses observed.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers TikTok, threatened with ban in the United States, wants to play the opinion against Western governments

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Due to a lack of voluntarism, but above all an obsession with profit to the detriment of user protection, these digital giants have demonstrated their inability to self-regulate effectively. From this point of view, the DSA responds to a legal void that needed to be filled. The race for innovation cannot justify continuing to leave these companies without safeguards which, by dint of promoting divisive content to elicit as many reactions as possible, feed the polarization of society and disrupt the democratic game.

The fact that most major platforms seem to want to play along is an encouraging sign. However, this does not prejudge the effectiveness of the device. This is likely to alter the economic models of these companies, and therefore their income. Some will be tempted to test the limits of the new regulation and the ability of the EU to sanction infringements. The first months of application will therefore be decisive in establishing the credibility of the DSA.

This article is originally published on .lemonde.fr

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