Anna Mazgal

DMA: heated trilogue negotiations concluded with partial interoperability gains

On Thursday March 24th the trilogue negotiators concluded discussions, dramatic at times, over the Digital Markets Act. The compromise includes some gains on interoperability, a potential changemaker in the online intermediation. What to expect? Where not to hold your breath? We parse out the practical consequences of the trilogue outcome on interoperability.

Winding road to the final compromise

Interoperability has been a point of contention since the European Commission published their first draft in December 2020. The EC drafted it narrowly, obligating gatekeepers to offer interoperability to the so-called ancillary services, like payment or identification services, that wish to operate within closed ecosystems. IMCO Rapporteur MEP Andreas Schwab followed this approach in his draft report. 

That didn’t go well with many MEPs who were disappointed with the fact that an opportunity to open up walled gardens of online intermediation had not been exploited. Many amendments and heated debates later, the final EP report provided that interconnection should be also possible between messaging apps and services (the so-called number independent interpersonal communication services) as well as social networks.

Since the Council’s approach was focused on refining the business-to-business side of interoperability, the trilogues didn’t show much promise in securing the extension of the EC’s scope. Somehow, under pressure of time the delegation of MEPs managed to negotiate some gains that keep the spirit if not the letter of the EP mandate.

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Debate: AI and the Commons – sharing is caring

The old principle that knowledge is power has been proven true in the online space in a way precedent only by the innovation of print. Free knowledge is designed to be shareable and shared online. It is evident that as the custodians of one of its flagship projects, Wikipedia, we should always consider if we could afford disengaging from conversation about the power that is created with it. This reflection is especially relevant in any global movement whose collective actions weigh enough to make a difference globally.

Read the introduction to the debate

Read John Weitzmann’s take on the issue

Match made in (online) heaven

Emergence of Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons and other such projects wouldn’t have been possible without reliable, standardised mechanisms of controlling creative outputs by ceding rights to them. Creative Commons licences are a societally recognised tool to do just that. Of course Wikipedia could have gone with any tool of a release of rights. But because of the diffusion of Creative Commons licences and the community behind it willing to translate, improve and finally use the licensing it makes sense that CC licensing is present on Wikipedia to such an extent.

It is a joyous feedback loop – Wikipedia has many contributors so the intake of CC licensing is massive. Then the images and materials licensed in that way start functioning in other contexts and projects. The two ideas: of a tool and of a knowledge-building practice are mutually reinforcing. No wonder that there is a significant personal overlap between two communities of contributors.

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Path to the Digital Decade: do EU policy-makers dream of electric sheep?

European Union is dreaming of becoming a global digital powerhouse. This dream is neither unfounded nor silly. On the contrary, we have everything that’s needed to build a resilient European internet. Unfortunately, as our human dreams tend to, the “Path to the Digital Decade” Policy Programme compiles big words with old solutions and seemingly random actions. Does it mean that we will sleep through the opportunities of the decade that, whether we prepare for it or not, is bound to be digital?

FKAGEU feedback on the Policy Programme “Path to the Digital Decade

A frame, a performance in 3 acts and an umbrella

With its strong balance between freedom of business and interventionism, founded on long traditions of freedom of expression and access to information paired with functioning political instruments to legislate across national jurisdictions, Europe is uniquely positioned to regulate, shape, invest and inspire the emergence of the European internet. So where are we with that?

To recap: we have the existing framework of the Digital Single Market: “the digital Schengen” aimed at legislating to lift barriers of access to products and services. This framework is embodied through the legislation ranging from the new directive on copyright in DSM, geo-blocking regulation, terrorist content regulation (sic!) as well as the three acts that are now going through the legislative process: Digital Markets, Digital Services and Artificial Intelligence Act.

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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 we 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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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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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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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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DMA: IMCO targets GAFAM, forgets interoperability

We’ve seen the draft report on the Digital Markets Act from the leading Committee, and we are not impressed. Rapporteur Andreas Schwab imagines the DMA as a tool to take swift action against the biggest players in online markets. But the key issues that could help consumers, about whom the Committee for Internal Market and Consumer Protection should be most concerned, remain unresolved.

The usual suspects

The German Christian-Democrat MEP’s vision of the DMA targets the biggest platforms, by raising quantitative thresholds of how rich and popular one has to be to qualify as a gatekeeper. A quick check of whose annual EEA turnover is €10 billion in the last three financial years or market capitalisation is at least €100 billion in the last financial year, and which services have over 45 million monthly users, reveals that Schwab is targeting the GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook Amazon, Microsoft).

The rumour in town is that platforms such as booking.com don’t want to be bound by the same regulatory measures as the giants that are bigger and wealthier by an order of magnitude, and… that originate from the US. This could be considered beneficial, if one views only the five to be the source of most online evils. Except that it is not entirely future-proof if a new core service emerges and does a lot of damage before they actually reach the high financial thresholds. Not to mention that such an approach further entrenches the online ecosystem in which online intermediation is practically divided among the five companies. 

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Antiterrorists in a bike shed – policy and politics of the Terrorist Content Regulation

co-authored by Diego Naranjo, Head of Policy at EDRi

Analysis

In the second installment of series of longer features on our blog we analyse the political process around the terrorist content debates and key factors influencing the outcome.

The short story: an ill-fated law with dubious evidence base, targeting an important modern problem with poorly chosen measures, goes through an exhausting legislative process to be adopted without proper democratic scrutiny due to a procedural peculiarity. How did we manage to end up in this mess? And what does it tell us about the power of agenda setting the name of the “do something” doctrine?

How it started – how it’s going

A lot of bafflement accompanied the release of the Terrorist content regulation proposal. The European Commission published it a few days after the September 2018 deadline to implement the Directive on Combating Terrorism (2015/0625). It is still unclear what the rush was with the regulation if the preceding directive hadn’t got much traction. At that time, only a handful of Member States met the deadline for its implementation (and we don’t see a massive improvement in implementation across the EU to this day). Did it have to do with the bike-shed effect pervading modern policy-making in the EU? Is it easier to agree on sanitation of the internet done mostly by private corporate powers, than to meaningfully improve actions and processes addressing terrorist violence in the Member States?

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TERREG adopted without a final vote – what to expect and what it means

The Regulation on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online (TERREG) has been adopted without a final vote thanks to a peculiarity in European Parliament procedure. The dangers of content filtering, over-policing of content by state and private actors, and the cross-border prerogatives for governments will now become law without a final stamp from the elected representatives of the European citizens.

What happened (and what didn’t)

A Plenary debate had been scheduled to discuss the draft legislation one last time. However, the voting list released for the Terrorist Content Regulation specified it would be approved without a final vote. A text that goes into so-called “second reading” – as the file in question was – is considered “approved without vote”, unless one of the political groups expressly requests a plenary vote. None of them did, so TERREG is considered as passed.

UPDATE: TERREG was published in the Official Journal of the EU on May 17th 2021. It enters into force 20 days from publication (June 7th 2021). It will apply from June 7th 2022.

On April 20th, LIBE  adopted what is now the final text with 52 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in favour of the draft legislation, including the Dutch MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld, a powerhouse in privacy and fundamental rights debates in the European Parliament. The 14 votes rejecting it came from members of the Greens with the TERREG Shadow Rapporteur Patrick Breyer at the helm, and the Left. 

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