Politics

gig economy, roaming extension, battle of amendments – EURACTIV.com

Welcome to EURACTIV’s Digital Brief, your weekly update on all things digital in the EU. You can subscribe to the newsletter here

 

“With more and more jobs created by digital labour platforms, we need to ensure decent working conditions for all those deriving their income from such work”

-European Commission’s Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager

Story of the week: The European Commission has finally shown its hand on the directive to regulate platform workers. At the centre of the proposal is the much-feared rebuttable presumption, a measure that would reverse the burden of proof on the platform, rather than the workers, to show that they are self-employed. The Commission estimates up to 4.1 million people might be reclassified as a result.

Online platforms, as largely expected, have not welcomed the proposal. Anticipations of the draft legislation earlier this week even made the stocks of Just It, Deliveroo and the likes plummet. It could have been worse though, as a leaked proposal from 13 October contained much broader criteria to classify a worker as an employee.

The proposal also includes measures on algorithm management, with some significant overlaps with the AI Act, where AI systems applied to employment are considered high-risk. The platforms will need to oversee automated systems and ensure human review of any significant decision. Interoperability of ratings was included in an accompanying communication, which sets the Commission to support the development of codes of conduct. Read more.

 

Don’t miss: The EU co-legislators reached an agreement on the roaming extension for the next 10 years following some intense negotiations on Wednesday evening. The agreement on wholesale cap prices for data was reached on the Commission proposal of €2 per gigabyte, to gradually decrease until reaching €1 in 2027.

The agreement crushed the hopes of those who wished for the price of data to be better aligned with the actual costs, as the maximum price per GB in three years’ time will still be higher than the average commercial prices currently in use in several EU countries. This is at a time when 5G and broadband are increasingly bringing down the cost for data.

In terms of fair use policy and intra-EU calls, the Parliament’s two flagship proposals, MEPs obtained only a mention in the preamble asking the European Commission to look into the matter. Lawmakers at least got a small victory in that the future revision of the proposal will need to go through the ordinary legislative procedure rather than delegated acts, where they would have had very little influence. Read more.

 

Also this week

  • DMA  faces amendments on killer acquisitions, interoperability and default settings in the plenary vote
  • Greens table amendments on the DSA ahead of IMCO vote
  • New German government determined to defend encryption, SPD lead negotiator says
  • AFP teams up with Google to fight disinformation ahead of presidential elections

 

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Artificial Intelligence

Binding AI. During its final plenary session, the Council of Europe´s intergovernmental expert committee on artificial intelligence (CAHAI) adopted its position for a legal framework in artificial intelligence. The proposal contains a set of legally binding and non-legally binding standards that will be the basis for discussing a treaty in the first half of 2022. The idea is to establish basic principles and norms that ensure AI systems respect human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law, based on a methodology for classification risks that is along the same lines as the EU’s AI Act.

Competition

Competition talks. EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager travelled to Washington D.C. this week for the launch of the EU-US Joint Technology Competition Policy Dialogue. The dialogue was established alongside the EU-US Trade and Technology Council earlier this year and is set to focus on common challenges and cooperation when it comes to digital regulation. In a joint statement issued at the launch, the EU and US called for factors such as network effects, interoperability and the role of big data to be considered more consistently as part of digital investigations. Technological developments and the digital economy’s growth have transformed the economic landscape on both sides of the Atlantic, the statement notes, necessitating a rethink of how competition enquiries are conducted.

Temporary pause. The Commission has paused its competition investigation into US company Nvidia’s acquisition of UK chip designer ARM, while it gathers more information. The EU’s antitrust watchdog had been looking into whether the deal, the biggest of its kind, would up prices while stifling innovation. The temporary halt in the EU doesn’t mean a respite for Nvidia, however, as the US Federal Trade Commission is also seeking to block the deal and the UK’s competition authority has said it will launch its own investigation.

The Italian job. Italy’s competition authority fined Amazon more than €1.1 billion on Thursday for abusing its dominant market position after the company was found to have been promoting its own logistics service, “Fulfilment by Amazon”, by linking it to the access of key benefits such as Amazon Prime. In addition to the fines, the watchdog has also imposed behavioural measures such as increased visibility for third-party sellers, compliance with which will be kept track of by a monitoring trustee. “It seems clear that it is always easier for those who enjoy a competitive advantage in terms of data to shift from a dominant position in one sector to another,” commented Rocco Panetta, managing partner at Panetta Law Firm and IAPP board member.

Data & privacy

Encryption defence. The incoming German government plans to more stridently defend end-to-end encryption and resist the introduction of “backdoors” which allow remote access to devices, the Social Democrats (SPD) digital policy expert told EURACTIV. There have been calls at the EU level for encryption to be weakened in order to tackle online child abuse, but security experts have warned against the purposeful creation of vulnerabilities, saying these could be exploited and lead to violations of users’ privacy. The new German government will be unanimous in resisting such calls, the SPD expert said. Read more.

Bypass efforts. Documents obtained by privacy activist Max Schrems’ organisation NOYB reveal that the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) met with Facebook on 10 occasions to discuss the platform’s compliance with GDPR in 2018. For the activist, the result was a legal expedient to ‘bypass’ the GDPR, collecting user data for target ads on the grounds of a contract, rather than explicit consent. The documents also reveal that the DPC suggested including these legal provisions for social media platforms in the European Data Protection Board Guidelines, an attempt which was ultimately rejected by fellow European regulators. The pressure has been ramping up on the DPC, with the Irish Times openly calling for a change of leadership.

Biometric exchanges. The Commission has proposed an EU Police Cooperation Code which will include the automated exchange of data to identify potential links between crimes across and beyond the EU. Included in the data that will be available for transfer will be facial images and police records, and the Code will establish a “central router” to which Member State databases can be connected. The proposal has drawn criticism from digital rights groups, who say that the expansion of these police powers have yet to be proven necessary and proportional, as they are required to be under EU law.

Data Act feedback. The results for the public consultation on the Data Act were published on Monday. Perhaps unsurprisingly, businesses were the largest respondents, with 122 trade associations and 105 companies or business organisations participating in a public consultation which elicited responses from a total of 449 respondents. 100 public authorities and 58 citizens also offered their opinions of the legislative proposal, which the Commission says is intended to “create a fair data economy by ensuring access to and use of data for legitimate purposes.” One key takeaway from the feedback was that most respondents had experienced issues when trying to get access to data and therefore see government action as needed in business-to-government data sharing.

Disinformation

Anti-disinfo alliance. News agency Agence-France Presse has joined with Google France to launch an anti-disinformation programme as the 2022 French presidential elections loom. The programme will provide training for its members in skills such as fact-checking and monitoring. It will also establish a collaborative platform on which its membership, composed of journalists and media organisations, can exchange information about false and fact-checked content. The initiative is similar to measures taken by other platforms, such as Meta, which recently announced the extension of its “Facebook Protect” programme, deployed during the 2020 US election, to countries including France. Read more.

Code extended and expanded. The process of revising the Code of Practice on Disinformation has been extended as 26 more potential signatories come on board. The revision, which comes in response to guidance published by the Commission following its review of the original tool, had been set to be completed before the end of the year but is now on course to finish by the end of March 2022. The Commission also announced the extension of its coronavirus disinformation monitoring programme, which had been due to end in December but will now last an additional six months. Read more.

WhatsApp signs up. The Code will also gain, for the first time, a private messaging service as a signatory after Meta announced that WhatsApp would put its name to the tool. Meeting with Meta’s vice-president for Global Affairs and Communications, Nick Clegg, European Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová said: “the Commission will work collaboratively with WhatsApp to determine the commitments appropriate to a private messaging service that uses end-to-end encryption to protect users.”

Digital Markets Act

Gentlemen (dis)agreement. The agreement with rapporteur Andreas Schwab not to table separate amendments during next week’s plenary vote was largely respected by S&D, Renew and ECR. But not by ECON and ITRE, who used their power as associated committees to table several amendments that were excluded during the negotiations. Schwab’s EPP opposed all of them, but both committees got their way with the support of other political groups.

Holding it together. Amendments on killer acquisitions, interoperability and default settings are likely to find cross-party support among liberal, social-democrat and green MEPs. To a certain extent, these proposals are also very close to positions expressed by Schwab before. What the leading lawmaker seems to be concerned about is that these amendments disrupt the final agreement, although so far there have not been noises in this direction.

What’s coming next. If everything goes as planned, Schwab will face the French Presidency in the trilogue in January, without having the support of a CDU-led government in Berlin. Therefore, it might be a good idea to stay on good terms with ECON rapporteur Stéphanie Yon-Courtin, who will participate in the talks and is very close to the French government. Pulling some last-minute procedural tricks to kill the default setting amendment might not be in the best interest of the upcoming negotiations.

The Left strikes back. The cease-fire was not violated only by the committees: The Left presented several amendments. Three of them were co-signed with EPP’s Geoffroy Didier, and aim to extend the scope of the DMA to ancillary services and to ensure interoperability of creative content across different digital platforms. The other leftist amendments are somewhat extreme, as they would prevent gatekeepers from processing personal data for commercial purposes. Read more.

Stepping down. the S&D shadow Evelyne Gebhardt announced on Thursday she is retiring in February, meaning the centre-left will need to find another representative in the negotiations. Unless an agreement is found in one month, which seems highly unlikely.

Digital Services Act

Agreement reached. After weeks of stalling, Christel Schaldemose managed to reach an agreement, mostly with support from the centre-right and right. She had to drop some of her most controversial proposals such as extending the liability of online marketplaces but introduced measures on dark patterns, deep fakes, and recommender systems for very large online platforms (VLOPs). The trade secret exemption was partially removed, and cloud services were excluded from the scope. “The DSA is an important legislation and we have had many different opinions and views on how to improve the Commission proposal, but in the end, we managed to make ends meet and create a broad agreement,” Schaldemose told EURACTIV. Read more.

Green amendments. The Green group did not desist and presented together with The Left a number of amendments ahead of next week’s IMCO vote. Amendments include requiring VLOPs to pay a ‘supervisory fee’ to the Commission, to consider the environment in their risk assessment and to establish a legal representative in each member state. In one case, on stricter measures against revenge porn, they also received the support of Renew. However, all in all, the deal reached by Schaldemose seemed to hold. However, more challenges are to be expected in the plenary, where new attempts on a ban on targeted ads via LIBE or a media exemption via JURI are to be expected.

Industrial strategy

Open source rulebook. The Commission adopted a new set of Open Source Software rules this week, intended to ease the process of sharing the source code of software when doing so would be in the interest of society, companies or public services. As part of the plans, the Commission’s software would be collated in an open-source and publicly accessible repository, with each contribution being vetted for security and privacy risks.

Media

AI in the newsroom. As in other sectors, AI is increasingly being incorporated into the work and working environments of journalists. Concerns remain over the technology’s deployment, however, and while some of these are applicable to other areas, others are highly specific to the media, where trust is already on a downward trend. To respond to this, the CEO of one company that is developing AI for use by the media told EURACTIV an “ethics by design” approach is needed, meaning ethical considerations are incorporated into all stages of the development process from data set construction to application. Read more.

Platforms

Lawsuit hits Meta. Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have launched a $150 billion lawsuit against Meta, accusing the company of failing to act against anti-Rohingya hate speech online that led to violence against the community offline. The suit blames both the company’s failure to conduct content moderation sufficiently and Facebook’s platform design. Facebook has previously admitted that it was “too slow to prevent misinformation and hate” in Myanmar; since then, the company says, it has taken steps to tackle online dangers and abuses in the region. Read more.

Algorithmic dangers. Documents obtained by the New York Times have shed more light on the driving objectives of TikTok’s algorithm, namely on how the company’s strives to maximise the amount of time spent on the app by users. The person behind the leak of the documents and external critics worry that this approach could push viewers towards disturbing content that might encourage self-harm, for instance.

Amazon blackout. Widespread outages hit Amazon on Wednesday, taking down or slowing services such as Prime Video and Alexa for many users, mainly in the US. Products including Amazon’s Ring security cameras and companies that use the cloud computing component of Amazon Web Services were also affected by the outage, which is the third such issue to hit the company in 2021.

A win for Apple. The Paris Commercial Court has ruled against the involvement of the French digital start-up association France Digitale in a competition case launched by the French Ministry of Economy in 2017. The court found France Digitale’s participation in the case, which was strongly opposed by Apple, inadmissible after it intervened in support of the French Minister for Economy, Finance and Recovery and against what it describes as Apple’s unfair behaviour when it comes to the App Store.

Russian regulator under fire. Apple has launched legal proceedings against the Russian competition authority after the watchdog accused the company of preventing app developers from informing App Store customers of alternative payment options. Apple launched the suit in October, two months after the Russian regulator issued a warning to the tech company over its practices.

 

What else we’re reading this week:

Investigating Facebook: a fractious relationship with academia (FT)

DeepMind says its new language model can beat others 25 times its size (MIT Technology Review)




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