DMA votes: IMCO vs. Council, users vs. Member States

We have it! Both the Council of the European Union and the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee adopted their versions of the Digital Markets Act. After the upcoming EP Plenary vote will spend a good part of 2022 following the intransparent and unpredictable negotiations between the two bodies. Let’s take a look at what they are bringing to the negotiating table if it comes to big ideas and, above all, new benefits for users.

How it started, how it’s going

After the European Commission showed its proposals for the Digital Markets Act, there were different views on how to make it better; the EC proposal lacked teeth, especially regarding any mechanisms that could break the grip that GAFAM has on the internet. For us, at Wikimedia, the most desired approach would have been to address the business model and not merely base the gatekeeper qualification on turnover and market capitalisation. 

It turned out very quickly, however, that the legislators are not in a mood to overturn the status quo. That was not exactly the key objective for the IMCO Committee Rapporteur, although Shadow Rapporteurs managed to introduce good ideas, as we will see below. Now we are awaiting the Plenary vote, most likely on December 16th. It remains to be seen whether the IMCO report will be in any way amended. But it doesn’t seem likely that the changes, if any, are substantial and it is unlikely that the file that the need for is so widely understood would be rejected. 

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Editorial: The DSA debate after Haugen and before the trilogues

If the EU really wants to revamp the online world, it should start shaping legislation with the platform models in mind it likes to support, instead of just going after the ones it dislikes.

Whistleblowers are important. They often provide evidence and usually carry conversations forward. They might be able to open the debate to new audiences. I am grateful to  Frances Haugen for having the courage to speak and the energy to do it over and over again across countries, as the discussion is indeed global. 

On the other hand the hearings didn’t reveal anything completely new, we didn’t learn something we didn’t already know. We live in a time where the peer-to-peer internet has essentially been replaced by a network of platforms, which, in their overwhelming majority, are for-profit, data-collecting and indispensable in everyday life. 

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e-Privacy: our quick fix to help nonprofits and protect consent

The ePrivacy Regulation could potentially make communications better by setting a firm standard on how online tools can and cannot be used in profiling and surveilling individuals. We became directly interested in the proposal for a regulation when we realised that the proposed rules on how our chapters and affiliates can communicate with their supporters are ambiguous. Here is the breakdown of the problems and ways out.

How it works now

The Regulation concerning the respect for private life and the protection of personal data in electronic communications (a full name of a Regulation on Privacy and Electronic Communications, or ePrivacy Regulation) is now subject to trilogue negotiations. We specifically look into provisions on the scope of direct marketing. As much as we don’t “market” any services or products for sale to individuals, we all want to keep in touch with our supporters. According to the ePrivacy proposal such communication falls under the definition of direct marketing. This concerns organisations in our movement that contact individuals to solicit donations or to encourage them to volunteer in various ways in support of our movement’s mission. 

Currently in several Member States, based on the ePrivacy Directive and subsequent national laws, nonprofits have the right to contact individuals who they were in touch with before, on an opt-out basis. It means that while they present a new initiative or a fundraising campaign, they need to provide the contacted people with a possibility to refuse receiving such information in the future. 

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Meet “ClueBot NG”, an AI Tool to tackle Wikipedia vandalism

There are many bots on Wikipedia, computer-controlled  “user accounts” that perform simple, repetitive, maintenance-related tasks. Most are simple, trained to fix typos or using a list of blacklisted words to determine vandalism. ClueBot NG uses a combination of different detection methods which use machine learning at their core.

Bots on Wikipedia

A bot (a common nickname for a software robot) is an automated tool that carries out repetitive and mundane tasks. Bots are used to maintain different Wikimedia projects across language versions. Bots are able to make edits very rapidly, but can disrupt Wikipedia if they are incorrectly designed or operated. False positives are an issue as well. For these reasons, a bot policy has been developed.There are currently 2,534 bot tasks approved for use on the English Wikipedia; however, not all approved tasks involve actively carrying out edits. Bots will leave messages on user talk pages if the action that the bot has carried out is of interest to that editor. There are 323 bots flagged with the “bot” flag right now (and over 400 former bots) on English Wikipedia. On Bulgarian Wikipedia, a much smaller language version, there are currently 106 bot accounts, but only a number of them are active. Projects by smaller communities sometimes need to rely more on machines for page maintenance.

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You Shall Not Pass! Wikimedia Foundation Denied Observer Status At WIPO

The fight over the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market has shown that European copyright rules affect the operation of Wikipedia and other free knowledge projects. Global rules are equally important. Negotiations take place in Geneva, at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Wikimedia Deutschland and the Free Knowledge Advocacy Group are committed to increasing transparency around WIPO negotiations on international copyright law, and shaping WIPO-level policy outcomes, especially facing the pressure by rightsholders’ to expand the scope of copyright protections. This is the third installment of a series on Wikimedia’s involvement at WIPO (see part I and part II).

China blocked the Wikimedia Foundation’s bid for observer status at WIPO. This is the second time this has happened after the Foundation’s initial application in 2020. Wikimedia’s exclusion sets a worrying precedent and should alert European lawmakers who are concerned about the democratic governance of intergovernmental organizations.

Unsurprising yet still disappointing

China’s move during last week’s general assembly session didn’t exactly come as a surprise. It was again the only country to explicitly object to the accreditation of the Wikimedia Foundation as an official observer. Since WIPO is generally run by consensus, any one country may veto accreditation requests by NGOs. The Foundation will reapply for official observer status in 2022, but it will only be admitted by WIPO if China decides to change its mind.

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DMA in IMCO: Shadows present ideas, Rapporteur shows a compromise

Shortly before the summer recess, MEPs at the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee concocted close to 1200 amendments to the Digital Markets Act, a proposal construing the category of a gatekeeper and a set of obligations for internet services that qualify as one. Let’s take a look at what the Shadow Rapporteurs, the most important people in the process, proposed and how Rapporteur Andreas Schwab tackled their proposals to date if it comes to expanding users’ choice and autonomy over their data through the DMA.

Who’s talking?

As customary in committee work, each political group designated a representative to debate the DMA report. With Adreas Schwab (EPP, DE) at the helm, the Shadow Rapporteurs are: Evelyne Gebhardt (S&D, DE); Andrus Ansip (RE, EE); Virginie Joron (ID, FR), Martin Schirdewan (GUE, DE), Marcel Kolaja  (Greens, CZ), and Adam Bielan (ECR, PL). Each of them, either individually or with colleagues, filed amendments to the DMA.

Contributions span from reinforcing the autonomy of users, through supporting businesses making use of platforms’ intermediation, to supporting platforms themselves. There is no surprise in the fact that the more left of the political spectrum we look, the more important users’ rights are. Having said that, almost each Rapporteur has an interesting proposal on how to make our life on the platforms easier.

Who is in the scope?

With the exception of ECR’s Adam Bielan, all Shadows want to expand the scope of services that could become gatekeepers. Voice assistants, for which the market is highly concentrated, are on everyone’s list, except Kolaja’s. The Green’s Shadow wants to add connected TV and embedded digital services in vehicles, which include those enabling access to audio-visual content. MEPs Gebhardt and Schirdewan expand on the audio-visual, adding services providing audio and video on demand and streaming services respectively.

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Wikimedia Projects & AI: Designing a “Section Recommendation” tool without reinforcing biases

There is an idea to use a  “section recommendation” feature to help editors write articles by suggesting possible sections to be added. But it is possible that its recommendations inadvertently increase gender bias. Here’s how we could deal with it.

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Wikimedia Projects & AI Tools: Vandalism Detection

There is a machine learning service available to interested Wikimedia projects and communities called ORES. It aims to recognise if an edit, for instance on Wikipedia, is damaging or done in good faith. Of course, false predictions cannot be avoided and thus remain a major risk. Here’s how we try to handle it.  

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DSA in imco: Three amendments we like and one that surprised us

Just before the summer recess, the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection committee released over 1300 pages of amendments to the EU’s foremost content moderation law. It took the summer to delve into the suggestions and are ready to kick off the new Parliamentary season by sharing some thoughts on them. Our main focus remains on how responsible communities can continue to be in control of online projects like Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons and Wikidata.

1. The Greens/EFA on “manifestly illegal content”

AM 691 by Alexandra Geese on behalf of the Greens/EFA Group

Article 2 – paragraph 1 – point g a (new)

‘manifestly illegal content’ means any information which has been subject of a specific ruling by a court or administrative authority of a Member State or where it is evident to a layperson, without any substantive analysis, that the content is in not in compliance with Union law or the law of a Member State;

Almost any content moderation system will require editors or service providers to assess content and make ad-hoc decisions on whether something is illegal and therefore needs to be removed or not. Of course, things aren’t always black-and-white and sometimes it takes a while to make the right decision, like with leaked images of Putin’s Palace. Other times it is immediately clear that something is an infringement, like a verbatim copy of a hit song, for instance. In order to recognise these differences the DSA rightfully uses the term “manifestly illegal”, but if fails to actually give a definition thereof. We agree with Alexandra Geese and the Greens/EFA Group that the wording of Recital 47 should make it into the definitions. 

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Digital Principles by European Commission: too little, too late?

As abstract as they may seem, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of grand narratives in policy making. They help people make the meaning of events that otherwise seem as random as the weather and assess how effectively actions respond to objectives that the narrative sets. It therefore makes a lot of sense that the European Commision comes up with a plan for a Declaration of Digital Principles accompanied by a “Digital Compass”. But why only now? And why such a scope? And is all this enough to give the EU citizens a greater meaning of the role that the EU may have in shaping their online experiences? 

“The failure of imagination”

The European Commission from time to time takes seriously the need to create a grand narrative to help communicate its policy goals – and then underdelivers in practice. It is visible in the notion of “promoting our European way of life”, a framing that made its way into the official list of priorities of the Commission in the current legislative term. Not only is it a disappointing nod to the right-wing rhetoric of “Europe under siege”, but it also hardly means anything as we Europeans are rather beautifully different in how we choose to shape our ways of life. In fact In varietate concordia (Latin for United in diversity), the official motto of the EU fits us much better.

Another example is the Digital Single Market framework (DSM), which seems to make sense as to its core objective – removing online barriers in access to goods and services across the European Union. The problem is that the market does not exist in separation from the people, their needs, aspirations, and structural barriers they encounter in access to public and private services, in creating non-monetary value for themselves and for others, and finally in reaching out one another in a way that nurtures public debate and European cohesion. 

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