European Parliament approves rights-respecting DSA & proposes ban on use of sensitive personal data for online ads

Today's upcoming vote by the European Parliament's (EP) on the Digital Services Act (DSA) is expected to be a good step forward in protecting people’s rights on the internet, including freedom of expression and information, right to safety and the right to privacy, which EDRi has strongly and consistently advocated for.

By EDRi · January 20, 2022

The European Parliament today agreed to maintain the conditional liability regime for online intermediaries and the prohibition of general monitoring obligations with a large majority. Conditional liability disincentivises online platforms from over-removal of legitimate speech over liability concerns. The prohibition of general monitoring obligations prevents EU Member States from requiring online platforms to scan and unilaterally judge all the information people share online. These foundations are vital to protect our freedom of expression and access to information in a digital society.

Despite the fact that the European Parliament decided against adopting a full ban on surveillance-advertising, they have heeded civil society’s demands and severely restricted using people’s most sensitive personal data to target them with paid messages. MEPs also agreed to prohibit the use of ‘dark patterns’, so called manipulative interfaces that are designed to trick users into unintentionally consenting to sharing their personal data. Dark patterns are systematically used by Big Tech platforms like Facebook and Youtube but also by countless apps and websites to push users into consenting to surveillance based advertising.

We are thrilled to see that the majority of MEPs have spoken up to defend people against the greed of the surveillance ad industry. We believe that banning surveillance ads altogether would have been a more effective strategy but prohibiting the use of sensitive data and outlawing dark patterns is certainly the next-best thing,” says Jan Penfrat, Senior Policy Advisor at EDRi.

Thanks to a huge wave of civic engagement led by a large number of civil society groups over the past months, there is now a general awareness over the dangers of surveillance-based advertising. Despite unprecedented levels of corporate lobbying from Big Tech, political and social awareness of the harms of exploitative business model is increasing and will lead to changes. Adopted measures also include obliging online platforms to make it as easy to object to online tracking as it is to agree, and prohibiting so-called ‘consent walls’, i.e technical barriers that prevent people who say No to tracking from using online services.

It is, however, disappointing that the majority of MEPs refused to grant people the right to choose the ranking and recommendation algorithms they prefer, as had been repeatedly proposed. As a result, entire populations and their public debates will continue to be steered—and potentially manipulated—by Big Tech’s own biased systems with little chance to escape.

We regret that the European Parliament refused to empower European consumers to choose their preferred, trusted alternatives to toxic, engagement-based algorithms of Google or Facebook. It’s also bad news for European companies, including media organisations, that could have found new business opportunities in developing alternative recommender systems.” says Karolina Iwańska, Lawyer and Policy Analyst, EDRi member Panoptykon

The European Parliament also did recognise the overwhelming need of users and businesses for secure end-to-end encryption by making it impossible for individual EU Member States to legally limit the use of such protective technology.

It is now crucial for the EP to consolidate the wins for digital rights that its DSA position has gathered, and defend it decisively in the upcoming negotiations with EU Member States. The most progressive decisions like the ban of dark patterns and the protection of end-to-end encryption can especially transform the EU into a global leader of modern internet regulation.

EDRi will continue to advocate for legislation that upholds people’s rights and freedoms, and that shapes the internet as an open, safe and accountable infrastructure for everybody.

This press release refers to the EP vote happening this afternoon and is based on expected results.

(Contribution by:)

Jan Penfrat

Senior Policy Advisor

Twitter: @ilumium