Last week the EU revealed new proposals to regulate big tech firms though the “Digital Services Act” (“DSA”). The DSA uses the guise of curbing dis-information and hate speech to leverage control over tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter but will this ever be a success?
What is going to be interesting is to see how the new President elect, Joe Biden, will view the EU flexing its muscles over the US tech giants. Donald Trump frequently clashed with these tech giants, but he was a strong advocate that no foreign countries should control these US businesses, it was for the US to do and the US alone.
There is no doubt that the DSA is intended as a worthy piece of legislation as according to Ursula von der Leyen (President of the EU Commission), the DSA intends to “rewrite the rule book in the digital rule books”. As without regulation, there is no protection for the consumer. When looking at the tech giants, will the cost of this regulation for example in the case of eBay and Amazon simply be passed on to the individual sellers using their site and so ultimately the consumer rather than the tech giants themselves? If this happens, then the DSA will not be getting to the root of the problem but instead just be another layer of administration that needs to be dealt with.
The irradiation of dis-information and hate speech are laudable attributes in any society but this has to be balanced with the freedom of speech and the practicalities of having legislation which can be enforceable at all levels. The DSA aims to increase “platform monitoring” and incorporate “take down responsibilities” whilst ensuring that there is a “restriction on the collection of data” unless the data is made accessible to business users active in the same space. There will be a new concept of “gatekeepers” however gatekeepers, being the tech giants will be prevented from using data received for advertising services. It is also intended that there will be curbs to prevent pre-installation of tech giants installing their own application on hardware devices.
An unintended consequence of the DSA could be that when the tech giants try to addresses the dis-information and hate speech, they create regional variations of their offerings in the same way that Google is available in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau but not in mainland China. It is not going to be possible for human intervention to review for example the 500 million tweets that are made every day. This can only be done by changing the algorithms and so instead of having diversity, Europe may find that the EU becomes more homogeneous in respect of big tech. Start-ups may also find it more difficult to raise funding through private equity within a more restrictive e-commerce environment. One thing that can be said for sure is that will the Silicon Valley giants will not easily give up their algorithms. Instead, you are more likely to find that regional variations offered within the EU are more inferior to those within the rest of the world just like not having Google in mainland China and so this could be the gradual eroding of European enterprises rather than a restart through ctrl alt delete.