European Parliament Passes Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act

The European Parliament’s press release:

On Tuesday, Parliament held the final vote on the new Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA), following a deal reached between Parliament and Council on 23 April and 24 March respectively. The two bills aim to address the societal and economic effects of the tech industry by setting clear standards for how they operate and provide services in the EU, in line with the EU’s fundamental rights and values.

Lauren Leffer, Gizmodo:

Not all tech companies fall under the new legislation. The DMA will target companies valued at more than €75 billion (about $77 billion), or with annual gross revenue of more than €7.6 billion. To be considered a so-called “gatekeeper,” a company’s services will also have to have at least 45 million monthly users in the European Union and 10,000 annual business users. Companies that meet these requirements include Apple, Google, Meta, Amazon, and China-based mega-online-retailer Alibaba.

Both of these laws represent, on paper at least, the most effectual regulation anywhere of the modern technology industry. Expect to see commonplace practices upended and significant pushback, some of which will be warranted; Casey Newton has commented previously about the possible privacy and security risks of the DMA on messaging clients, for example, which I also built upon.

These policies give us the opportunity to see to what extent first-party applications and services really are great for their own sake, and also how much of their use comes from their inherent advantages. Of course I hope the things I love about the way I use computers today are not destroyed, but I am also trying to be prepared for a huge amount of change we will likely see around the world.

The leadership of DuckDuckGo, Ecosia, and Qwant jointly published a set of principles for search engine and browser choice. You can read the list for yourself, but I want to call out one specific recommendation:

Choice screens should be shown periodically to users, for instance on major OS updates. Initial device onboarding is not the only time when users are in the mindset to change core services, and major software updates can reset or affect gatekeeper-controlled search and browser default settings.

This is an example of the kind of thing I am worried about. I am struggling to imagine an implementation of this which would not be irritating. There are people who stick with the same browser or search engine for years because it is the default, certainly, but there are others who consciously prefer the options that just happen to be the default. If there is no way to distinguish between the two, it is a waste of the latter’s time to pester them with a choice screen.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an otherwise largely positive reflection:

However, the DSA is not a panacea for all problems users face online and the final deal isn’t all good news: It gives way too much power to government agencies to flag and remove potentially illegal content and to uncover data about anonymous speakers. The DSA obliges platforms to assess and mitigate systemic risks, but there is a lot of ambiguity about how this will turn out in practice. Much will depend on how social media platforms interpret their obligations under the DSA, and how European Union authorities enforce the regulation.

These rules will likely go into effect next year, so expect to see changes to your favourite gatekeepers’ platforms in the near future.