Digital Services Act (DSA) Compliance in Action: Insights from Leading Online Platforms
The European Union’s Digital Services Act (DSA) has ushered in a new era of online content regulation, aiming to create a more legally harmonised framework across the EU. The regulation affects online intermediaries who offer their services (goods, content or services) on the EU market, from e-commerce marketplaces and app stores to video-sharing platforms and search engines.
The DSA introduces a tiered approach, impacting online businesses differently based on their size and scope. For small online service providers, it sets more basic standards. However, as platforms grow in user base and influence, the requirements become more stringent. Very large online platforms (VLOPs) and very large online search engines (VLOSEs), which have vast numbers of users, face the most rigorous rules. Essentially, the larger and more influential the platform, the greater its responsibilities under the DSA.
The DSA becomes fully applicable for all online intermediaries on 17 February 2024. However, since August 25th, 2023, very large providers like Google, TikTok, and Meta (VLOPs and VLOSEs) must adhere to the DSA’s standards. These companies have already announced some of their changes to ensure compliance. This article explains some key DSA requirements and how these companies are adapting, offering insights for other platforms navigating these DSA rules.
Navigating DSA Compliance: How Leading VLOPs and VLOSEs Are Adapting
- Transparency reporting on content moderation: intermediary service providers are required to provide reports regarding their content moderation and removal practices at least once a year. These should detail content moderation activities undertaken during the relevant period. Importantly, this obligation is applicable to all intermediary service providers, irrespective of their size.
- Google is introducing a Transparency Center, a hub containing information about its policies, reporting tools, transparency reports, and development process. The company will also expand its transparency reporting, adding information about how it handles content moderation across different services, including Google Search, Google Play, Google Maps and Shopping.
- TikTok already publishes transparency reports to provide visibility into how it upholds its Community Guidelines and responds to law enforcement requests for information, government requests for content removals, and intellectual property removal requests. The approach will continue to meet the DSA new requirements. TikTok is also planning to share more about its content moderation decisions with creators, including whether AI decided the action taken. In accordance with DSA guidelines, they also announced that they will publish the first Transparency report shortly, which will include a breakdown of the number of monthly active users in each individual EU member state, and further insights into their content moderation activities.
- Meta already publishes quarterly reports on its enforcement actions regarding its policies on Facebook and Instagram. The company announced that it has improved its content reporting tools to be easier to use and also expanded how they get feedback for content moderation, so EU users understand why content is restricted.
- Advertising Transparency: under the DSA, online platforms, regardless of size, must adopt several measures to enhance advertising transparency. This includes clearly labeling advertisements, showing who placed the ad and who paid for it. They also need to share key details, such as the main audience they’re targeting and how many people saw the ad. VLOPs and VLOSEs, in particular, must maintain a public repository with detailed information about ads. The DSA also prohibits targeted ads based on personal data about children and “special category data”, which refers to sensitive personal data about, for example, a person’s race, political views, or health.
- Google is enhancing its Ads Transparency Center to specifically meet the requirements of the DSA. This will provide more detailed information about how ads are targeted, for how long and more.
- TikTok has rolled out its ‘Commercial Content Library’, which offers detailed information about its ads. Each ad will be accessible for up to a year after it was last seen by any user. This searchable database will also offer information about paid ads and ad ‘metadata’, such as the advertising creative, dates the ad ran, and the main parameters used for targeting. TikTok is also offering new labels that users can tag to their content. The label options include: “ad/sponsored”, “paid partnership” or “promotional content”. Additionally, TikTok will stop showing personalised ads to users aged 13-17 based on their activities. Users can already control the ads they see by adjusting their settings.
- Meta had previously introduced a public archive of ads (Ad Library) that’s open for exploration and querying by anyone. The company is now refining this tool to give EU users better insight into how ads are targeted, including displaying and archiving all ads that target people in the EU, along with dates the ad ran, the parameters used for targeting (e.g., age, gender, location), who was served the ad, and more. Similar to TikTok, Meta will no longer use activity-based data to personalise ads for users aged 13-17. Instead, they’ll only use age and location data for ad targeting.
- Data Access for Research: VLOPs and VLOSEs must grant approved researchers access to platform data, fostering more informed studies about content and ad dissemination.
- Google is granting researchers more access to data, shedding light on its EU-specific services and associated risks.
- TikTok already offers a Research API, which began in the US and is soon expanding to European researchers. This aims to promote transparent research related to various topics on their platform. In the coming weeks, non-profit academic researchers in Europe will be able to apply for access to the Research API.
- Meta is launching two tools: the Meta Content Library and API. The library includes publicly available content from Facebook and Instagram. Researchers will be able to search, explore, and filter the content on a graphical User Interface (UI) or through a programmatic API.
As mentioned, the DSA is set to become fully applicable to all companies on 17 February 2024. As this date approaches, companies need to prepare and ensure they are ready to comply with the DSA’s regulations. For a smooth transition and to facilitate DSA compliance, check our DSA compliance pack. We can assist your online business in navigating these changes effectively and maintaining compliance with the DSA.
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