Last year, we had long debates in the European Parliament about the form the today’s online world should take. It is dominated by a handful of tech giants such as Apple and Facebook, whose monopoly position tilts the balance of the digital ecosystem unhealthily in their favour. The digital space has a global dimension and reaches way beyond the borders of EU Member States, which is why I am pleased that the debate on the necessary regulation of large digital platforms is slowly beginning to take on a transatlantic dimension. The United States, and in particular the US Congress, is in dialogue with the European Union on how to solve the dominance of monopolies in the digital environment. 2022 should be a turning point in this respect, when ambitious debates will finally be translated into concrete legislative packages.
What went wrong with the digital transformation
More than anything, today’s digital environment resembles anarchy, where there are few rules and everything is allowed. The last European legislation regulating the online environment is twenty years old. During these two decades, digital platforms have become an integral part of our lives and today it is hard to imagine that we could manage without Google or Facebook on the internet. While the positive benefits of the digital transformation of recent years are obvious, the dominant position that some platforms have gained has given them, in addition to significant advantages over their competitors, a disproportionate impact on our democracy, society and economy.
The purpose of the planned regulations is not to slow down the development of the digital transformation or to throw a spanner in the wheels of the big digital platforms, but to protect our users and our basic civil rights. Until now, the platforms have had the privilege of setting their own rules. However, this has led to the situation when we, as individuals and as individual states, have no control over what information the platforms store about us or what content they foist onto to us on the basis of our personal data. Information given to us in person by whistle-blower Frances Haugen in the European Parliament in November showed, for example, that for profit Facebook and Instagram deliberately manipulate the content they display to the detriment of minors’ mental health and of democratic values. In addition, sensitive personal data of users, such as house numbers or location data, have been leaked many times in recent years. In 2021, for example, the private phone numbers of 533 million Facebook users were published on a hacker forum. Keeping in mind that Facebook collected these numbers quite unnecessarily, simply because it could.
New European legislation – Digital Services Act and Digital Market Act
Two new European legislative packages – the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Market Act (DMA) – should put an end to this imbalance between users and digital platforms in 2022. The approval of these laws is one of the main ambitions of the French Presidency of the Council of the EU, which has just begun. If the French do not manage to do it, we Czechs will finish it in the second half of the year. The DSA and DMA should become an important part of shaping the digital revolution in Europe and a precedent for other emerging regulations elsewhere in the world. Their aim is to set new rules for very large platforms such as the aforementioned Google, Apple, Facebook or Amazon. The emphasis is put on security and the protection of users’ personal data. The regulations will give people more control over what they see online: users will be able to decide whether they want to allow targeted advertising or not, and will have clear information about why specific content is recommended to them. The DSA and the DMA are committed to protecting a free internet as one of our civil rights. This means that if, for example, platforms remove our online content without a good reason, we will be able to challenge their decision and appeal.
The US debate on the regulation of large digital platforms
Virtually all of the large digital platforms that will be primarily affected by European regulation are based in the US. However, anyone expecting that this will create a new dispute between the European Union and the United States would be mistaken. In the United States, the debate on new regulations is moving more slowly than in Europe, but even there we are likely to see the results of the work of congressmen fighting to amend the antitrust laws later this year. The main problem in the digital world is precisely the existence of unchanging monopolies whose power grows every year. In July last year, US President Joe Biden said that ‘capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism’. There is a surprising consensus across the political spectrum in the US on the need to break up the Big Tech monopolies. In April 2021, even conservative Republican Senator Ted Cruz expressed the view that ‘Big Tech today represents the greatest accumulation of power – market power and monopoly power – over information that the world has ever seen’. US regulations should work along the same lines as the European ones, with the citizen – user coming first, and only then the market interests of the platforms. There is also a debate about the non-transparent and discriminatory algorithms that technology companies use to collect data and display advertising.
In 2022, we can therefore expect a major shift in the direction of global digital transformation. Both the European Digital Services and Markets Acts and the emerging US legislation will set a precedent for the further development of the digital environment worldwide. I believe that this turn will be a change for the better to the benefit of users and in the protection of our freedoms and privacy.
Year of reckoning for Big Tech: How U.S. lawmakers plan to rein in companies like Facebook and Google in 2022 (CBC) – https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/big-tech-regulation-united-states-social-media-1.6295055
Why 2022 could be a ‘watershed year’ for tech regulation (Washington Post) – https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/01/03/why-2022-could-be-watershed-year-tech-regulation/
2022: The turning point in EU’s digital policy (Euroactive) – https://www.euractiv.com/section/digital/news/2022-the-turning-point-in-eus-digital-policy/
Toward 2022: the state of the tech and telecoms debate (Politico) – https://www.politico.eu/sponsored-content/toward-2022-the-state-of-the-tech-and-telecoms-debate/
Here are some of the issues Brussels will have on its plate in 2022 (Euronews) – https://www.euronews.com/2021/12/28/the-eu-looks-at-2022