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December 15, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:52am

More regulatory curbs on Facebook and Google with European Digital Services and Market Acts

By Charlotte Tobitt

Google and Facebook could have to reveal how much advertising cash is passed onto publishers under Europe’s clampdown on the tech giants.

The Digital Services Act published on Tuesday by the European Commission is aimed at making the online ecosystem a “safe, reliable, secure space” in which people can trust what they read, while its sister legislation the Digital Markets Act is aimed at keeping the biggest “gatekeepers” in line.

The DSA proposes one standard of transparency for content moderation and advertising across the EU, as well as standards for the removal of illegal content and complaint procedures.

Meanwhile the DMA contains provisions forcing the so-called gatekeepers to increase transparency by providing information about the price of ads and the remuneration paid to publishera.

The tech giants would also be forced to provide access to their performance measuring tools and any other information necessary so publishers and advertisers can carry out their own verification of  ad inventory.

Users must also be clearly told whether and why they are targeted by each ad and who paid for it under the proposals. It should also be very clear whether content is sponsored or organically posted on a platform.

European Publishers Council executive director Angela Mills Wade described the proposals as a “really important moment for the future of the independent news media and for democracy in Europe”.

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“They take a targeted approach to regulating the mega platforms, seek to inject fairness, transparency and competition into the digital single market and to tackle the important issues of liability and self-preferencing,” she said.

“These new rules of the game including major changes for advertising and data, should give a huge boost to innovation and go some way to correcting the harmful market consolidation that has negatively impacted Europe’s media and information landscape.”

[Read more: Online Safety Bill: Social media companies face big fines for unsafe content, but news media exempt]

However the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association and European Magazine Media Association said they had expected “more concrete and far-reaching proposals on regulating the market behaviour of market dominant gatekeepers in the Digital Market Act”.

“The DMA must entail a specific obligation for the gatekeepers to grant all legal publications and offerings non-discriminatory access and fair terms and conditions for their services,” they said in a statement.

“Likewise, it must include an obligation for market dominant platforms to enter into negotiations with all legal publications and offer fair payment for their content.”

A briefing note on the legislation said that the DSA would fight disinformation through its rules on how platforms moderate content and on advertising and algorithms.

It said: “…it will aim to ensure that platforms – and in particular the very large ones – are more accountable and assume their responsibility for the actions they take and the systemic risks they pose, including on disinformation”.

Margrethe Vestager, executive vice-president for a Europe fit for the Digital Age, told journalists the DSA would make users safer from illegal and harmful content while preserving an “important balance” with freedom of expression.

Platforms will be given new due diligence standards for removing illegal content but also explaining to the user why this has been done and giving them the opportunity to complain.

She added that platforms would be forced to share how their algorithms work – though not the algorithms themselves – and how their recommender systems select the content they show users.

Vestager said: “The two proposals serve one purpose: to make sure that we, as users, have access to a wide choice of safe products and services online. And that businesses operating in Europe can freely and fairly compete online just as they do offline.

“This is one world. We should be able to do our shopping in a safe manner and trust the news we read. Because what is illegal offline is equally illegal online.”

Under the DSA penalties will extend to fines of up to 6% of global turnover, while for “gatekeepers” failing to comply with the DMA this would go up to 10% plus periodic penalty payments of 5%.

Platforms could also ultimately be forced to temporarily suspend their service or sell part of their business if there have been “systemic infringements”.

On Tuesday the UK proposed its own online safety plan which would introduce powers to fine social media companies millions of pounds if they fail to combat misinformation.

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