Two steps forward, one step back: DMA must do more to free people from digital walled gardens

The European Parliament Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) report on the Digital Markets Act (DMA) makes improvements to the DMA but also includes serious loopholes that need to be fixed in trilogue

By EDRi · November 23, 2021

Today, IMCO has approved its report on the DMA. The DMA regulates gatekeepers’ behaviour and their impact on market dynamics. The DMA, together with the much broader Digital Services Act (DSA), has the potential to reign in the ever expanding monopolistic nature of Big Tech corporations whose powers have infiltrated every aspect of our life, from education and healthcare to healthy debate and democratic elections.

EDRi welcomes the Committee’s commitment to fair and competitive digital markets and recognises the EU’s desire to limit the power that digital gatekeepers have over people’s lives and the markets they dominate. Currently, gatekeepers are so market dominant that they dictate rules and practices that affect, among other things, the protection of our data, our right to freedom of expression and our right not to be discriminated against.

“People will only be free from being locked into gatekeeper services if these digital ‘walled gardens’ are forced to open up and interoperate with the rest of the internet in full respect of privacy and data protection rights”, explains Jan Penfrat, Senior Policy Advisor at European Digital Rights.

Although EDRi regrets that the IMCO report does not consider a general interoperability obligation for digital gatekeepers, we strongly support the report’s call for a meaningful interoperability obligation for messaging services and social networks.

Interoperability – for example where Signal users could communicate with Whatsapp users – empowers people to choose the platforms they prefer. Be it because they offer superior content moderation and recommender systems or that they better respect user privacy.

EDRi also welcomes the new obligations proposed that finally allow people to install the software and app stores that they desire instead of those that the tech companies decide for them. This guarantees that owners of digital devices like smartphones can make decisions for themselves about what technology works best for them. We are concerned, however, that the broad exceptions given to gatekeepers where they argue to protect the “integrity of the hardware or operating system” or “end-user data protection or cyber security” will allow gatekeepers to continue to stifle user freedom and meaningful choice.

EDRi also acknowledges the Committee’s attempt to prohibit gatekeepers like Facebook, Google and Amazon to secretly re-use people’s personal data across different services and companies in order to dominate new markets. For instance, someone using Whatsapp may not want to share their their personal address book with Facebook and Instagram by default.

This provision will only be effective if data protection authorities are able and willing to enforce the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the baked-in consent requirement for such data re-use. As long as gatekeepers and other tech companies can continue to deceive users with ‘dark patterns’ and other user interface design tricks, or lock them out with consent walls, they will always be able to extract consent from users against their will.

EDRi calls for the protection of human rights to be at the centre of all plans to regulate the role that platform gatekeepers play in the future of Europe’s digital environment. We are glad to see that a number of provisions introduced by the IMCO report point to the right direction. Now it is up to the negotiators in trilogue discussions to close the loopholes and prevent gatekeepers from evading their obligations.

Image credit: People Silhouette Vectors / Vecteezy

( Contribution by: )

Jan Penfrat

Senior Policy Advisor

Twitter: @ilumium