Facebook, Google face crackdown in Europe on race, religion and more – HT Tech

Google and Facebook face tighter restrictions on how they target ads to users, after European lawmakers voted to toughen upcoming legislation.

Tech platforms such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook face tighter restrictions on how they target ads to users, after European lawmakers voted to toughen upcoming legislation. The European Parliament moved to favor rules that restrict platforms from using sensitive data — race or religion, for instance — for targeting purposes, and require them to make it easy for users to opt out of tracking while continuing to use their products. 

The result of the vote, announced Thursday, makes measures set last month by a committee of European lawmakers even stricter. That agreement included a ban on targeting ads to minors, and using so-called dark patterns, where platforms push people to consent to being tracked online. It also allows people to seek compensation if platforms continue to promote content that they know harms people.

Lawmakers voted against provisions to completely ban targeted ads completely, however.

Representatives for Google and Facebook didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The rules could go into effect as early as 2023 as part of the Digital Services Act, a measure advanced by the European Commission in 2020 to regulate online content by requiring illegal posts to be taken down and make information about algorithms available to researchers.

Still, the law faces tough negotiations due to begin Jan. 31 with EU member states and the commission, neither of which proposed such strict measures on tech companies.  

Large companies that violate the rules face fines of as much as 6% of their global sales.

EXPLAINER: How sweeping EU rules would curb tech companies

LONDON (AP) — Online companies would have to ramp up efforts to keep harmful content off their platforms and take other steps to protect users under rules that European Union lawmakers are set to vote on Thursday.

The 27-nation bloc has gained a reputation as a trendsetter in the growing global push to rein in big tech companies as they face withering criticism over misinformation, hate speech and other harmful content on their platforms.

Here’s a look at the proposed EU rules, known as the Digital Services Act, and why they would make an impact:

WHAT IS THE DIGITAL SERVICES ACT?

The legislation is part of a sweeping overhaul of the European Union’s digital rules aimed at ensuring online companies, including tech giants like Google and Facebook parent Meta, protect users on their platforms and treat rivals fairly. It’s an update of the EU’s two-decade-old e-commerce directive.

“The Digital Services Act could now become the new gold standard for digital regulation, not just in Europe but around the world,” the lead EU lawmaker on the bill, Christel Schaldemose, said during a debate Wednesday. “Big tech nations like the U.S. or China are watching closely to see what we’re now going to agree.”

The proposals are one-half of flagship digital regulations drafted by the bloc. EU lawmakers also are working on the Digital Markets Act, which is aimed at reining in the power of the biggest online “gatekeepers.” Both will face further negotiations with EU member countries before taking effect.

Getting the Digital Services Act through the EU Parliament will be “a huge step in tackling the social problems caused by online platforms,” said Zach Meyers, a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform think tank.

Similar efforts are underway in the U.S., but there are deep divisions between Republicans who criticize platforms for censoring their views and Democrats who slam them for failing to act.

“If EU member-states reach agreement with Parliament in the coming months, the EU will show a way that other democracies can reconcile these different political interests,” Meyers said.

WHAT WILL IT COVER?

The Digital Services Act includes a raft of measures aimed at better protecting internet users and their “fundamental rights online.” Tech companies will be held more responsible for content on their platforms, with requirements to beef up flagging and removal of illegal content like hate speech or dodgy goods and services sold online like counterfeit sneakers or unsafe toys.

But lawmakers battled about the details of such takedowns, including whether court orders would be required.

Online platforms will have to be more transparent about their algorithms that recommend the next video to watch, product to buy or news item at the top of people’s social media feeds. So-called recommender systems have been criticized for leading people to more increasingly extreme or polarizing content.

There are also measures to ban platforms from using “dark patterns” — deceptive techniques to nudge users into doing things they didn’t intend to — as well as requiring porn sites to register the identities of users uploading material.

ARE THERE ANY CONTROVERSIAL POINTS?

One of the legislation’s biggest battles is over surveillance-based advertising, also known as targeted or behavioral advertising. Such ads would be banned for children but not prohibited outright. That idea faced fierce resistance from the digital ad industry dominated by Google and Meta. Lawmakers instead proposed banning the use of sensitive personal data for ads.

Google didn’t respond to a request for comment. Meta directed inquiries to tech lobbying groups.

Surveillance ads track online behavior, such as the websites visited or products bought online by a user, to serve them more digital ads based on those interests.

Groups such as Amnesty International say ad tracking undermines rights the legislation is supposed to protect, because it involves a massive invasion of privacy and indiscriminate data harvesting as part of a system that manipulates users and encourages ad fraud.

WHAT HAPPENS TO OFFENDERS?

The EU’s single market commissioner, Thierry Breton, took to Twitter on Wednesday to portray the proposed rules as the start of a new era for tough online enforcement.

“It’s time to put some order in the digital ‘Wild West,'” he said. “A new sheriff is in town — and it goes by the name #DSA,” he said, posting a mashup of video clips from a Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western film.

Under the Digital Services Act, violations could be punished with hefty fines of up to 6% of a company’s annual revenue. Some amendments have pushed for raising that amount.

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