23 April 2022, Brussels – Last night's agreement on the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) is a major step forward for holding tech companies accountable and bringing much-needed transparency to their workings, according to Global Witness.
The new rules set a high bar for the rest of the world to follow in tackling the systemic harms facilitated by large tech companies - including the spread of disinformation and hate - rather than solely focusing on the removal of illegal content. 2023 will see the establishment of crucial oversight mechanisms in the EU for tech companies via risk assessments, external audits and, crucially, access to data for independent researchers, including civil society organisations.
Importantly, the EU also takes aim at the toxic business model of giant tech companies by reining in their system of targeted advertising and engagement for profit. While the DSA falls short of a full ban on surveillance advertising, it does provide people with more immediate protection from the most egregious profiling for advertising, such as targeting children or using sensitive data - including our religious or political views or sexual orientation.
As Global Witness/YouGov polling in France and Germany shows, citizens are deeply uncomfortable with their sensitive data being used to target them with ads and a majority oppose any of their personal information being used for advertising.
Nienke Palstra, Senior Campaigner at Global Witness, said:
“Thanks to the EU’s leadership a new era for holding tech companies accountable has begun, safeguarding people’s rights and protecting our democracies from manipulation and distortion."
“Despite heavy lobbying by the tech industry, the EU’s ban on the most invasive forms of surveillance advertising begins the crucial curtailing of Big Tech’s toxic business model. Now the EU passes the baton to the rest of the world, not least the US, to put in place the regulations that are sorely needed if we are to guarantee people come before profit.”
While the EU is the first mover to put in place such comprehensive rules, many of the worst harms of the tech industry are in the Global South. Governments around the world should take heed and the tech giants themselves have a responsibility to raise their own standards to protect users everywhere.