1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

What impact will the EU's Digital Services Act have?

Priyanka Shankar
August 25, 2023

The EU hopes to rein in big tech platforms with a digital law that seeks to ensure online safety.

An EU flag with the logos of online companies like Facebook, Instagram and Youtube are seen
The EU's Digital Services Act seeks to moderate content online and ensure digital safetyImage: DW

Supposing you live in the European Union and have recently opened online social media applications such as WhatsApp, Instagram or TikTok, you have probably seen a banner to inform you that the particular company is updating its "privacy policy" for users in the 27-member bloc.

These notifications are a direct outcome of the EU Digital Services Act (DSA), which took effect on August 25.

The groundbreaking digital legislation puts forward new rules to ensure that tech giants, such as Facebook and Google, put in force measures to moderate illegal content and prevent, for example, the promotion of hate speech on their online platforms.

The DSA seeks to ensure that the digital sphere is safer generally and the fundamental rights of people using online platforms are protected.

"A safer internet for everyone," promised European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton in a post on the social media platform X (previously known as Twitter), welcoming the law coming into effect. "These systemic platforms play a very important role in our daily lives — so it was time for the EU to set our own rules," he added.

Which platforms are targeted?

Currently, the EU has narrowed down 19 "very large" digital platforms that will be subject to the DSA. The list includes social media sites Meta, X, Instagram and TikTok; the search engine Google and the online encyclopedia Wikipedia; as well as the online marketplaces Alibaba's AliExpress, Amazon and Zalando. The mobile application stores Google Play and Apple AppStore, as is the digital navigation platform Google Maps, are also on the list.

"In a nutshell, basically all the services you would use on a normal day are in the group of designated entities. And they are the ones that have more than 45 million active users in the European Union," an EU official told reporters in Brussels at a press briefing on Thursday.

The official also said that ahead of the DSA coming into effect, the 19 platforms had been subjected to "stress tests" by EU officials. The platforms had to show how they intended to comply with the digital regulation and how they would remove illegal content and ensure user privacy and transparency.

Earlier this month, TikTok and Meta released public statements on how they would apply the rules of the DSA.

"We are introducing an additional reporting option for our European community that will allow people to report content they believe is illegal, including advertising," said TikTok. "To make this as easy as possible, people will be able to choose from a list of categories such as hate speech, harassment, and financial crimes. We will provide a guide to help people better understand each category." 

"TikTok has also announced a completely new advertising archive, which is also required by the DSA. So for the first time, people can publicly get an insight into who advertises on the platform, bringing a level of transparency," another EU official told the press conference, welcoming the companies' efforts to comply with the law.

A Smartphone with the Tiktok logo is seen.
TikTok has announced how it plans to comply to the EU's DSAImage: Joly Victor/abaca/picture alliance

Andrea Renda, a senior fellow at the Brussels-based think tank Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), told DW that the DSA was "landmark legislation."

"This is an important moment in the history of the Internet because, for the first time, the very well-established principle of basically no responsibility for online intermediaries, which has been one of the key tenets since the early stages of the World Wide Web, is being reversed," he said.

Some critics have pointed out that certain platforms, which also display harmful content, including Netflix, AirBnB and PornHub, are not on the list. These could be added in the future, however.

"We will see a lot of questioning and potentially a lot of adjustments going forward with the list of 19 platforms," Renda explained. "But the DSA needs to stick to objective criteria for now, which is how many users the platforms serve. But there is a possibility for the European Commission to reach out to more online platforms in the coming months, seeking to ensure child and adult online safety. No list is perfect, and going forward, we will see additions."

What happens if platforms don't comply?

EU officials have said that online platforms that do not meet the requirements of the DSA could be subject to hefty fines or even bans. 

According to the European Commission, the regulation includes a horizontal framework for regulatory oversight, accountability and transparency of online space in response to emerging risks.

"Enforcement should be rigorous,"  Iverna McGowan, the director of the Centre for Democracy & Technology's Europe office, told DW. "But to be rigorous in practice, a number of things have to happen: Firstly, we believe that civil society should have a formal role in overseeing the implementation because, obviously, civil society has a level of expertise and independence. And the other point would be that we need to see adequate resources at a national level for the different agencies that will have enforcement powers and that they also be independent in practice."

Zalando files lawsuit against European Commission

Not all the digital platforms are pleased with the regulation. In June,  German online fashion retailer Zalando took legal action against the European Commission. "Zalando contests the unequal treatment resulting from the absence of a clear and consistent methodology to assess whether a company is a 'Very Large Online Platform,'" the company said in a statement protesting its inclusion on the list of 19 platforms.

Aurelie Caulier, Zalando's head of public affairs for the EU, told the Associated Press that the DSA would "bring loads of positive changes for consumers" but that  "generally, Zalando doesn't have [the same] systemic risk [as other platforms]. So that's why we don't think we fit in that category."

"The DSA does send a very cynical message both to users as well as to lawmakers, to say that you're not prepared to implement a law whose primary purpose is actually to protect human rights and democracy online," argued McGowan. "But the EU is also one of the biggest trading blocs in the world. So it would seem very cynical not to participate in one of the biggest market blocs in the world just because there are laws in place that require you to conform to democracy and human rights."

'EU is a trailblazer for once'

Certain companies have refrained from introducing certain apps in the EU because of the DSA. Meta, for example, has delayed launching its version of X, which is called Threads, in the bloc.

But Renda said that, generally, the DSA was viewed favorably: "Things like access to vetted researchers that will be able to look into the AI systems used by the very large online platforms, or other types of obligations such as knowing your business customer are super important principles under the DSA that will lead to more responsible online mediation, especially for those platforms that make a lot of money by capturing the attention of the end users," he explained.

"It's not going to be an issue for online tech platforms planning to expand in the EU because the trend is towards imposing similar rules also in other parts of the world," he added. "And it's just that the EU for once, in this case, is a real trailblazer." 

McGowan warned, however, that "corporate capture" should be avoided: "There are a lot of provisions, including, for example, auditing of algorithms. It will be really important that that's not outsourced just to large private companies. Public interest should be at the DSA's core," she said.

Impact on users in the EU

Now that the law has come into effect, users in the EU will be able to see that content on the 19 listed digital platforms is being moderated, and they will be able to understand how.

"For the first time, very comprehensive information on why content got moderated, deleted or banned will also be given to users, ensuring transparency," an EU official told reporters.

The official added that consumers and consumer rights groups would also have the option to use various mechanisms to appeal decisions if their content had been moderate by February next year.

But Renda explained that most changes would be invisible to users: "The ones that are visible and rely too much on notifying end users are likely to be either a little bit of a hassle or irrelevant. But there will be a bit of back and forth on platforms with these DSA notification banners until the law is fine-tuned."

World is watching the EU

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen hailed the DSA as "bringing our European values into the digital world."

Renda said that the world would watch "with interest" how these online values played out. "In the US, they look at the DSA as a shining example of how the EU sometimes can regulate much better than the US. Brazil and Japan are also looking at it with a lot of interest. Japan might even repurpose it just like they did with another piece of EU regulation called platform-to-business. The UK has taken a similar approach by suddenly going into this U-turn, placing more responsibility on online intermediaries."

"It is also very important to see how the EU translates the human rights principles of the DSA into its foreign policy," added McGowan. "How might it apply when the EU monitors elections abroad? How would [the bloc] apply the principles of the DSA in such a case? How might it really mainstream those policy forces and laws of the DSA into its development and broader work as well? That remains to be seen." 

Edited by: Anne Thomas

What is the Digital Services Act supposed to achieve?

Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

Ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh ride a truck on their way to Kornidzor in Syunik region, Armenia, as thousands flee the region after Baku took control last week
Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage