The European Union has launched a set of new policies that will “overhaul” the digital market. The Digital Services Act (DSA) and The Digital Markets Act (DMA) are applicable across the whole EU, creating a safer and more open digital space.
Marta Belcher is the Outside General Counsel at Protocol Labs, an open-source R&D lab that builds products, tools and services to improve the internet. Known as a pioneer in blockchain law, Marta is an American technology attorney who also serves as a special counsel to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Chair of the Filecoin. Here she shares some of her thoughts on the implications of the new acts.
What are you expecting from the EU’s DSA/DMA announcement this week and what do you think of some of the proposals so far?
Depending on how things play out, the DSA/DMA could have a huge impact on tech companies, perhaps even of the same magnitude as the GDPR. We experience so much of our daily lives through a handful of large corporations and have no choice but to trust those corporations. Algorithms already have a huge impact on our daily lives — from how much you’ll pay for an airline ticket to what content you’ll see on social media sites. We know that the cumulative impact of these decisions made by algorithms can have huge impacts on society — such as swaying elections — and we know that these algorithms are often biased. As just one example, Amazon attempted to create a recruiting algorithm for judging CVs, and the algorithm turned out to be extremely biased against women, discounting CVs that had the word “women” (such as being part of a “women’s” organisation) or that listed a women’s college. Transparency into how these algorithms work is the first step to combatting these biases and understanding the potential impact of the technology that is so intermingled with our daily lives.
How will these rules address what the EU has long tried to do, i.e. rein in Big Tech and foster digital competition?
In my view, we shouldn’t just be talking about fostering competition among tech companies on today’s web; we should be talking about the inherent problems with the Internet in its current form. Our current centralised Internet infrastructure means that so much of today’s internet relies on just a few companies to store and serve literally billions of websites and applications, and means that there is a single point of failure. It also means that users have no choice but to trust those few companies. The centralised internet model also means that, if I want to communicate with someone sitting next to me over the Internet, that data still gets sent across the world and back. In my view, many of the problems of today’s Internet might be better addressed by decentralising the Web instead of regulating it. Decentralising the web means that multiple nodes can fail without the entire system falling apart, but it also means that users can control their own data.
Do you think the EU may be going too far? Could the rules hurt smaller players?
I am very concerned that these proposals could inadvertently undermine freedom of expression online.
How does this compare to other global regulatory changes in the mix, for example, the US conversation surrounding Section 230 and increased antitrust scrutiny?
I think this is part of a larger conversation across the globe about what it means for a few large corporations to have so much control over our daily lives, and to have no choice but to trust those corporations not to misuse troves of data about what we say and do, to trust them to keep data safe from attackers, and to trust them to protect our civil liberties.