New digital market laws EU – What will users notice?

The new Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA) will trigger a major change for the powerful online platforms, or Big Tech. But how will this affect consumers? Lotje Beek, Policy Advisor at our partner Bits of Freedom, responds to recognizable, online situations that are going to disappear with the introduction of the DMA and DSA.

The current European digital market laws date back to the year 2000. They are from the ‘digital stone age’, considering how fast technology is evolving. According to the EU, the new DMA will lead to more competition, innovation and more choice for consumers and corporate end-users. Among other things, the DSA regulates the online advertising practices of companies such as Google and Meta. Lotje emphasizes the importance of this development to the consumer: “The objectives of Big Tech are not always in line with people’s rights and freedoms. These conflicting interests create tension between the ambitions of the platforms and our freedom of communication and privacy.”

7 situations that will change when the DMA and DSA are implemented in 2023*:

1. When I type ‘couch green’ in Google’s search bar, I am presented with Google’s price checker Shopping, which is immediately visible at the top of the page.

Lotje: “Under the DMA, gatekeepers such as Google are not allowed to favor their own products and services in rankings. So when you search for ‘couch green’ on Google, Google may not recommend its own service, Google Shopping, first. The same applies, for example, when you search for a video on Google. Google is not allowed to show YouTube first, because Google owns YouTube.”

2. While making the rounds on social media, I switch from Instagram to Facebook. I see the exact same ads in both apps.

 “WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram, all three part of Meta, collect personal data about us on their websites. Under the DMA, those services may no longer share personal data with each other. So if Meta knows through your Facebook account that you live in Breda, it may not passed this information on to Instagram. An ad about a festival in Breda that you see on Facebook because you live in Breda should not show up on Instagram. Unless Instagram also knows you live in Breda. And if you already have Facebook, your email address or phone number should not be automatically entered when you decide to create an Instagram account. Unless the user has given permission.”

3. In my Apple App Store, I purchase a new app. I am instantly transferred to the Apple payment environment.

“By requiring people to use the services of a so-called gatekeeper, the gatekeeper becomes more powerful. In Apple’s case, that company has a monopoly on the payment environments of all Apple users, while competitors have no chance. But it is also important that we as consumers have freedom of choice, not only in terms of which app we want to use, but also which payment environment we want to use. An iPhone owner is automatically ‘held hostage’ by Apple’s payment system, and the associated terms and conditions. Even if that person would have preferred a different payment system, with terms that are more in line with their wishes. The DMA ensures that you will have a choice.”

4. A friend is on WhatsApp, while I prefer to use the privacy-friendly Signal. I’ll have to use WhatsApp anyway, otherwise I can’t communicate with my friend.

 “Apps such as WhatsApp also hold us hostage, so to speak. And that means they can unilaterally determine the conditions under which we use their services. We have a very poor negotiation position, for example, on how WhatsApp handles our privacy, because WhatsApp also knows that it is difficult for us to leave. That’s about to change. The DMA makes interoperability for messaging apps compulsory. This means that in the short term you will be able to send a message from your Signal account to your friend on their WhatsApp account, without having a WhatsApp yourself. This is a very big step toward a broader communications landscape and independence from Big Tech.”

 5. I don’t have WhatsApp, so I can’t participate in my friends’ group chats in that app.

“In four years, these group chats will also be interoperable. By that time you will be able to participate in a group chat with friends who are all using different apps. In two years’ time, phone calls on messaging apps must also become interoperable. We regret that the phone calls and group chats are still a while away, but on the other hand we are glad that these functionalities will eventually become interoperable as well. And who knows, it might go a lot faster than currently planned. Unfortunately, the proposal to require social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, to effectuate interoperability did not make it at this time.”

6. On YouTube, after watching a video, I immediately get a similar video recommended to me.

“Currently, when you watch a video on YouTube, a YouTube algorithm determines which video you will see next. The goal of that algorithm is to keep you on YouTube as long as possible. We call this a recommendation system. Such a recommendation system can cause you as a user to fall down the well-known rabbit hole of disinformation, as so clearly portrayed by the Dutch TV producer and standup comedian Arjen Lubach. Platforms will soon need to have multiple recommendation systems. We would have liked these systems to be from alternative parties as well, but unfortunately that did not come through. However, the platforms must offer at least one recommendation system that is not based on profiling. Platforms also need to be more transparent about those recommendation systems: that they exist and what they want to achieve with them. In other words, why you get recommended a particular video.”

7. I see certain ads on the online platform because I am a woman and heterosexual.

“Right now, you see particular ads because Facebook and Google have been able to infer from your browsing behavior that you are a heterosexual woman. This may lead to discrimination, as you may be excluded from certain ads, for example. When the DSA goes into effect, these tracking-based ads may no longer be based on certain sensitive data, including sexual orientation. So being heterosexual should not affect what ads you see. Advertising algorithms can then, unfortunately, still lead to unintended discrimination. For example, if you live in a certain neighborhood, that might mean you don’t get to see a certain ad. Certain population groups could be excluded from that advertisement as a result. Not because the algorithm is intended that way, but as a kind of negative side effect.”

Finally, how did Bits of Freedom advocate for the DMA and DSA?
“Bits of Freedom met with members of the European Parliament and the Dutch government to discuss the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act to influence the position of the Parliament and the Council. Our main goal was to create a more diverse communications landscape and more rights for the end-user, for example with interoperability and limiting tracking-based ads.”

* Provided the DMA and DSA are implemented correctly. That depends on implementation and enforcement by governments. Our partners are closely monitoring the progress.

Responsible digitization

Together with our partners, Adessium Foundation contributes to the creation and implementation of the conditions that are necessary for a responsible digital society. We enable civil society organizations to offer constructive criticism on how we digitalize our society. To this end, we support Bits of Freedom, which, in collaboration with our partners EDRI (umbrella organization digital rights) and BEUC (European umbrella organization of consumer organisations), champion good legislation at the national and EU level.

Who are the masked men at European borders? – Three journalistic investigations of Lighthouse Reports
Touching sore spots – The important work of investigative journalists