EU: Another missed opportunity to ensure a pluralistic digital ecosystem

EU: Another missed opportunity to ensure a pluralistic digital ecosystem - Digital

In this week’s vote, the European Parliament’s Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) adopted its report on the proposal for the Digital Services Act (DSA), concluding the first phase of a heated policy debate. The report paves the way for the upcoming vote on the DSA in the European Parliament’s Plenary session and the trialogue discussions. As these dates are fast approaching, ARTICLE 19 urges EU legislators to build on the progress already made and ensure that this piece of legislation will effectively reach its goals of holding digital platforms to account while protecting fundamental rights and fostering a more diversified communication landscape. 

But how can this be achieved? Certainly, IMCO’s report has taken some steps forward, but there is still a long way to go. In particular, we welcome the mandatory risk assessments aimed at strengthening safeguards for the protection of human rights; the clarified due diligence obligations for very large online platforms (VLOPs); the harmonised notice and action obligations, as well as the strong protections against dark patterns (forms of manipulation that force users to do something they would not necessarily do, such as, for example, accept cookies), and the overall increased transparency requirements. However, we strongly believe that to be effective, risk assessments should be driven by human rights impact assessment frameworks and existing best practices, and they should be complemented by mandated transparency requirements and truly independent auditing and monitoring systems. Access to the results of such assessments is therefore pivotal, and we, therefore, welcome the provisions proposed by IMCO, but there is still room for improvements.

More broadly, the report, unfortunately, missed an invaluable opportunity to open up the market for recommender systems to third-party players, which would have created diversity and allowed users to choose what is best for their needs. It is of utmost importance, for users’ rights and democracy, that the DSA creates a diversified environment for recommender systems and that the latter do not remain the monopoly of VLOPs. Among others, allowing third-party recommender systems on VLOPs can enable users to make their choices and optimise their news feeds and timelines for goals other than ‘engagement’ and could protect them from the amplification of content they may not wish to see such as hate speech or disinformation. 

Experts and civil society representatives have been urging the European Parliament to seize the opportunity of the Digital Services Act, particularly in Article 29, to create a diversified and decentralised environment for recommender systems to empower users and tackle the root problem of social media’s engagement-based ranking systems and further advance the protection of freedom of expression online. IMCO’s report is therefore a huge missed opportunity. 

We, therefore, call on MEPs to address these pressing issues in view of the Plenary vote and trialogue discussions with the European Council and European Commission.