An EU law that sets out new obligations for technology companies – including social-media platforms and digital marketplaces – has come into force today (16 November).
The European Commission says that the Digital Services Act (DSA) creates “an unprecedented level of public oversight” of online platforms, at national and EU level.
The DSA is aimed at tackling the spread of illegal content, online disinformation, and other societal risks.
It creates new obligations for online platforms, introduces protections for users' rights online, and places digital platforms under a new transparency-and-accountability framework.
Special rules for bigger platforms
All online intermediaries will have to comply with obligations to increase accountability and oversight – including a new flagging mechanism for illegal content.
There will be special rules for platforms with more than 45 million users – those defined as 'very large' online platforms or search engines.
Such platforms will be directly supervised by the commission, and face annual assessments of the risks for online harms on their services.
There will be fewer obligations, as well as some exemptions, for smaller platforms and start-ups.
According to the commission, the act will limit arbitrary content-moderation decisions by platforms, and offer new ways for users to take action against platforms when their content is moderated.
Users will be able to complain directly to the platform, choose an out-of-court dispute-settlement body, or seek redress before the courts.
The act gives the commission powers to directly supervise 'very large' platforms and search engines that reach more than 45 million people.
Under the act, each member state will have to designate a Digital Services Coordinator, who will supervise other entities that come under the DSA, as well as 'very large' platforms for non-systemic issues. States must empower these coordinators by 17 February next year.
The national coordinators and the commission will co-operate through a European Board of Digital Services.
Eye on algorithms
The commission is also setting up a European Center for Algorithmic Transparency (ECAT), which will provide expert assessments of whether tech giants' algorithmic systems are working in line with the risk-management obligations that the DSA sets up.
Online platforms now have until 17 February next year to report the number of active end-users on their websites.
Based on these numbers, the Commission will make an assessment as to whether a platform should be designated a 'very large' online platform or search engine.
These larger entities will then have four months to comply with obligations under the DSA.
A separate piece of legislation, the Digital Markets Act (DMA), came into force on 1 November. Targeted at so-called 'gatekeeper' companies, this is aimed at preventing unfair business practices, such as platforms ranking their own products or services more favourably.