MEPs approve law that will open social media’s ‘algorithms black box’

Digital Services Act will set clear rules and criteria for social media platforms and the content they host, and the data they retain

The Digital Services Act, still a controversial topic in the European Parliament, has been adopted with 530 votes in favour 78 against and 80 abstentions.

The DSA is a legislative package that seeks to rein in the power large online platforms like Facebook now hold with data they host and hold.

The law aims to regulate these digital services by setting up clear rules and criteria for how platforms can behave and what sort of content they host. Algorithms must be made public, advertising measures and data collection practices must become transparent and straightforward for users.

Christel Schadelmose (S&D), member of the internal market and consumer protection committee (IMCO) and rapporteur for this new legal act, said the DSA would help people “take back control and bring our technology laws into the 21st century.”

Once ratified citizens will have the right to seek compensation directly from platforms. “There will be no more targeted ads for minors and people will hold more control over their digital lives.”

Schadelmose said she was especially proud that at last the forces of law and order were “opening up the algorithms’ black box.”

European commissioner for the internal market and consumer protection Thierry Breton championed the importance of implementing the DSA, emphasizing its crucial importance by referencing the events observed at the Capitol Hill riots in Washington DC.

“Digital platforms' effects on our democracy and the spread of disinformation coupled with the destabilization it can cause shows why we need the DSA,” he said. “This law will become a reference point for governments the world over.”

Mikuláš Peksa (Greens) said he was happy with the positive elements such as increased transparency and taking back power from the hands of the large platforms but he said it could have been pressed further to limit personal data collection.

“Cross-border removal orders are the main problem, which could lead to the deletion of fully legal content in one country just based on a decision in another one, this is particularly dangerous in the current rule of law crisis where some of the member states are backsliding towards authoritarianism.”

Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba (S&D) came out in favour of the draft act, with a long speech on how the role and effect of technology had evolved in recent years. “When digital platforms emerged years ago the societal changes harnessing new technologies seemed straightforward and the possibilities were endless, today the situation is totally different.” He stated that now these platforms have begun to exert control over people and politics due to the amount of personal data they possess and what they can do with it.

Alexandra Geese (Greens) was measured in her views, calling out certain failings in the process which meant the law did not go as far as she would have liked. Geese was proud that the parliament and institutions had “opened the algorithm black box” which would allow independent audits and research on the effects of these algorithms and systems on society and politics. Despite this she also felt the Parliament “should have and could have done more with this” to make the DSA stronger and more far reaching were personal data and platforms powers were concerned.

From the Left group, Martin Schirdewan was less than pleased with the DSA. “This draft text is far from what we were hoping and expecting, the predatory data usage models will remain, if we want to have effective protection the wholesale gathering of peoples data must be stopped outright.”

But in Schirdewan’s view, the text still reflected the wishes of big business more than those of civil society.

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The action was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information or opinions expressed in the context of this action. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the action.

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