Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a single market for digital services (digital services act) and amending Directive 2000/31/EC

In “A Europe Fit for the Digital Age”

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The rules governing the provision of digital services in the EU have remained largely unchanged since the adoption of the e-Commerce Directive in 2000, while digital technologies and business models continue to evolve rapidly and new societal challenges are emerging, such as the spread of counterfeit goods, hate speech and disinformation online. Against this backdrop, on 15 December 2020, the European Commission tabled a new legislative proposal on a Digital Services Act (DSA) to update the current EU legal framework governing digital services. In parallel, the Commission unveiled a proposal for a Digital Markets Act (see separate fiche).

The DSA is a horizontal instrument that aims to create a safer and trusted online environment. It puts in place a framework of layered responsibilities targeted at different types of services (i.e. intermediary services, hosting services, online platform services, and very large online platforms services) and proposes a set of harmonised EU-wide asymmetric obligations to ensure transparency, accountability and regulatory oversight of the EU online space (for more information see below the briefing on Digital services act :EU Legislation in Progress).

Following protracted interinstitutional negotiations, Parliament and Council reached a provisional political agreement on the DSA in April 2022. Parliament sitting in plenary approved the final text during its July 2022 session (with 539 votes in favour, 54 votes against and 30 abstentions). Online platforms (e.g. social media and marketplaces) and online search engines must take measures to protect their users from harmful and illegal content, goods and services. Online platforms must be more transparent and more accountable (e.g. on how their content is recommended to their users) and put in place special measures to ensure their users' safety online. They cannot target advertising based on minors' personal data or on sensitive data (e.g. sexual orientation, religion and ethnicity). They should also not use their online interface to influence users' behaviour, i.e. 'dark patterns'. Online marketplaces are required to make more effort to ensure the information provided by the online traders using their platforms is reliable, including through random checks. Very large online platforms (VLOPs) and very large online search engines (VLOSE) will have to comply with stricter obligations under the DSA, given the significant societal risks they pose when disseminating illegal and harmful content, including disinformation. 

The DSA was published in the Official Journal in October 2022 and entered into force on 1 November 2022. The European Centre for Algorithmic Transparency (ECAT) that will to provide technical assistance for the enforcement of the DSA has been launched in April 2023 and the Commission adopted the first designation decisions under the DSA designating 17 Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) and 2 Very Large Online Search Engines (VLOSEs) that reach at least 45 million monthly active users. Since August 2023, the DSA became legally enforceable for designated VLOPs and VLOSEs. The designated platforms have now completed their first annual risk assessment exercise to examine risks such as how illegal content might be disseminated through their services.

In September 2023, the Commission launched the DSA Transparency Database. In October 2023, the Commission  published a set of recommendations for Member States to coordinate their response to incidents that may increase the spread and amplification of illegal content, such as terrorist content.

In December 2023, the Commission opened formal infringement proceedings against the VLOP X on several grounds, included suspected breaches of the obligations concerning data access to researchers.

In January 2024, the Commission has sent formal requests for information to 17 of the Very Large Online Platforms and Search Engines (VLOPs and VLOSEs) to enquire about the measures they have taken to comply with the obligation to give access, without undue delay, to the data that is publicly accessible on their online interface to eligible researchers.

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Author: Tambiama Madiega, Members' Research Service, legislative-train@europarl.europa.eu

As of 20/03/2024.