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EU demands more regulation of US tech giants

June 7, 2020

The need in Europe for tighter rules on US internet giants has become "urgent," says its anti-monopolies chief Margrethe Vestager. Brussels is seeking submissions by September on its planned 'Digital Services Act.'

European Commissioner Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager
Image: Reuters/O. Matthys

The rush for US internet services during the coronavirus crisis showed the "urgent" need for the European Union to proceed with its planned Digital Services Act, Margrethe Vestager told the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

The competitions commissioner at the European Commission said Europe was determined to avert repeats of "monopoly-like situations" involving the likes of Amazon, Google and Facebook.

"In the past few weeks we have all been fascinated by what is possible digitally. But the coronavirus showed how dependent we are on US corporations, and that was a wake-up call," said Vestager.

Last week, Brussels began seeking public feedback before it unveils draft law to be known as its Digital Services Act. September 8 is the deadline for submissions.

Big tech lobbyists have already begun to challenge its central premise to "gatekeep" hate speech, for example, telling Brussels to stick to its existing competition law.

'Modern rulebook'

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, said last Tuesday that a "modern rulebook" stipulating "greater responsibility" was needed because online platforms had assumed "a central role in our life, our economy and our democracy."

Vestager on Sunday said the EU's societal concept differed "in part markedly" from how the internet was handled in the United States and China.

"In the future, digital organizations must take responsibility for their offerings," said Vestager, adding that the internet must be "European-regulated," with what she termed "instruments" to prevent a single firm in control of the market.

"We want competition, but we want democracy, and we reject the negative consequences of an unregulated capitalism," she said.

The EU's planned Digital Services bill — to be unveiled in detail by December — would require ratification by the 27 EU member states and in the European Parliament, where MEPs have already drawn up three versions of their own.

Read more: European Union unveils plans to regulate AI

Conflict in US

The initiative coincides with tech giants, such as Twitter and Facebook, finding themselves at loggerheads with US President Donald Trump over his controversial postings.

Last month Trump threatened to revoke a liability shield for digital platforms contained in Section 230 of the USA's Communications Decency Act.

Contrary to liabilities borne by publishers, Section 230 states: "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."

Last week, Vestager said: "Giant platforms, they are different. They are not what we thought 20 years ago, [which was the role of] just a completely neutral channel for what users put out there."

The last skirmish between big tech and the EU was during Europe's bid in 2019 to reform copyrights, which prompted intense international lobbying in Brussels.

In 2018, the EU adopted its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to give individuals within Europe — now post-Brexit a bloc of some 446 million residents — more control over their digital privacy and internet settings, such as electronic "cookies."

ipj/aw (AFP, Reuters)

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