Europe decided to regulate the digital giants


From our correspondent

End with the “Digital Wild West”. The European commissioners – the Frenchman Thierry Breton, responsible for the internal market, in the lead – have only had this expression on their lips since the European Union (EU) embarked on negotiations for the Digital Services Act (DSA, or digital services legislation) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA), two legislative proposals unveiled by the EU executive in December 2020. At the end of January, ahead of a first vote by the European Parliament on the DSA, Thierry Breton even published a short parody of the film online The good, the bad and the ugly, announcing a “new sheriff in town”. According to this video (which has caused a lot of ink to flow in Brussels, as it deviates from the institutions’ usual communication codes), the text has survived everything, even the intense “lobbying attempts”.

And for good reason, these two regulations should completely reshuffle the cards on the digital market – which, obviously, does not please everyone. In particular, they intend to introduce new obligations in terms of content moderation (to combat hate speech or misinformation) and the withdrawal of illegal products (because counterfeit or dangerous, such as weapons). Anything that is illegal offline must be illegal online, Brussels insists.

It is especially the largest platforms (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, etc.) that are concerned and are following these negotiations with the greatest interest because if they are successful, new bans (self-referencing, for example) will target them. , they, specifically – because of their size, their power and their unfortunate tendency to “lock out” market access for players smaller than them.

In an attempt to turn the tide and preserve their “business model”, they threw themselves body and soul into the battle, from the start of the negotiations, to try to slow down the projects of European legislators. “As soon as I started dealing with the DSA, I was the target – and this term is really chosen – of lobbyists”, testifies the Commissioner for the Internal Market, who states that he has always shown himself “listening”, corn ” closed “. He is not the only one to have had to deal with representatives of the interests of digital giants: according to Corporate Europe Observatory, in the twelve months following the Commission’s proposal, 613 meetings concerning the DSA were registered in the European Parliament. Or 1.7 meetings per day, every day for a year, estimates the NGO.

In January, in the days leading up to the vote on Parliament’s position on the DSA, many MEPs, like Dutchwoman Kim van Sparrentak on Twitter, were moved by the intensification of lobbying by Google with parliamentarians. The Mountain View firm wanted in particular that the provisions concerning targeted advertising be relaxed. Nothing happened: in its negotiating position, Parliament maintains unprecedented transparency obligations for platforms, and prohibits targeted advertising for minors. And this despite the means deployed by Google to influence decision-makers: the EU transparency register shows that in 2020, the search engine dedicated around 6 million euros to its lobbying activities.

The European institutions are also equipping themselves with tools to disentangle the false from the true in the arguments presented by the lobbies. MEPs can thus count on a powerful internal research center, capable of providing all sorts of analyzes on any subject. At the Commission, Thierry Breton also admits having a “small team” dedicated to monitoring lobbies, to thwart their attempts to ” disinformation “, he explains.

For the time being, the European negotiators have not lost sight of their objective, and the talks on both the DSA and the DMA are now entering a crucial phase: that of interinstitutional negotiations, between the Council of the EU (which brings together the States) and Parliament. “Compared to what we have experienced in recent months, the work of lobbyists should be a little calmer, because now the dice are cast… or almost”, wants to believe MEP Sandro Gozi. Paris hopes for agreements on these two texts before June, during the French presidency of the Council of the EU, and maintains that the battle is close to being won.

In Brussels, where the added value of “European” action rather than national action is so often put forward, these two regulations are already ranked in the category of “great victories” – like, for example, example, the abandonment of telephone roaming charges (the famous “roaming”, the end of which dates back to 2017), or the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force in 2018 – and this despite the marked reluctance of manufacturers.

Another idea in the pipeline is sure to ruffle the hair of the big names in “tech”: that of establishing a “single charger” for all electronic devices (smartphones, speakers, portable game consoles, etc.). ). The Commission estimates that thanks to this proposal, all consumers could save 250 million euros per year “avoiding the purchase of unnecessary chargers”. Here again, whatever the pressures, the negotiators will certainly remain straight in their boots… of sheriff.


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