The EU’s new Digital Services Act takes aim at Big Tech

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The EU continues to take the fight to the tech giants, deploying a new array of legal powers contained in the block’s updated Digital Services Act.

Thierry Breton, the EU’s bad boy of technology oversight, is at it again. As the EC’s Commissioner of Internal Market, Breton is responsible for “the free movement of goods and services, both online and in the physical world.” And he takes that online part seriously.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has vowed to make the digital economy a priority. Thierry Breton has been tapped as her champion in this effort. In her Mission Letter to Breton, von der Leyen says that one of his chief responsibilities is to “lead the work on the new Digital Services Act.” And Mr. Breton is pursuing this role with gusto.

What is the Digital Services Act?

The first EU Digital Services Act (DSA) was introduced 20 years ago. That first act aimed to expand technical collaboration among the 27-member EU bloc. The new, updated version of the Act will take a more regulatory approach, however.

In an interview with the Financial Times (FT), Thierry Breton implied that the tech giants that dominate our online life posed a threat, not unlike the big banks that were “too big to fail” in the global financial crisis of 2008.

“There is a feeling from end users of these platforms that they are too big to care,” Breton said. “Under certain conditions we may also have the power to impose structural separation.”

A new global standard in technology regulation?

Many think the DSA may become “the new GDPR,” referring to the EU’s strict privacy regime. The GDPR is now a worldwide standard in data protection.

The reference is apt, as the DA is also groundbreaking in its scope. Indeed, the DSA proposes to give the EC the power to actually force tech giants to break up or sell parts of their operation. They can even forbid companies from operating in certain regions, if such deemed necessary to maintain competition.

Additionally, Brussels will now be able to track how tech companies gather information on users. The EC will also construct a “blacklist” of forbidden practices and violations will result in penalties.

The Digital Services Act is in its final stage of consultation within the European Commission and is expected to be adopted in Q4 of 2020.