Friday, 05 March 2021 20:17

Digital Brief, powered by Facebook: Microtargeting debate, Protecting gig workers, Apple antitrust Featured


“Maybe prohibiting certain practices such as microtargeting at certain times, I think that’s the debate that we need to have on political ads.”

Top Story: The use of microtargeting for online political advertising could come in for new rules as part of legislation being readied by the European Commission, it has been revealed. Read on for more.

Podcast: This week, we take a look at the Commission’s plans for protecting the future of platform workers in the EU. You’ll hear from Commission representatives on the EU’s future objectives in this field, and we also speak to Ludovic Voet, Confederal Secretary at European Trade Union Confederation on the need to better protect the workers of the gig economy in Europe.

Don’t miss: Apple is increasingly under pressure this week, with news that US tech giant’s allegedly ‘unfair’ terms and conditions for developers using the company’s App store are set to come under the microscope of the UK’s competition regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). There are also rumours that the firm could face an EU antitrust charge sheet in the coming weeks.

The plight of the Platform Workers



Microtargeting

Renate Nikolay, head of cabinet of Commission Vice-President Jourova told an online event held by the Association of Commercial Television in Europe this week, that an option of prohibiting microtargeting under certain circumstances is being duly considered by the EU executive as part of new rules to come in Q3 2021. The EU executive is currently conducting a public consultation on future legislative efforts in the field.

In terms of the need to avoid the ‘amplification,’ of certain harmful or misleading advertising online, the “debate that needs to be had,” Nikolay said, was on “maybe prohibiting certain practices like microtargeting at certain times.”

For their part, Google’s submission to the Commission inception impact assessment notes that while the company does not allow ‘granular’ microtargeting on its platforms, it does “permit the targeting of election ads across broad categories.”

“We don’t support restricting broad targeting capabilities for election ads; however we do believe that verification, in-ad disclosures…and an election ads repository are essential,” Google’s submission states.

Elsewhere, in early February, the EU’s institutional data protection watchdog, the EDPS, said the bloc should prohibit targeted advertising as part of new rules against Big Tech platforms in the EU’s Digital Services Act.

The Commission’s December proposal for a Digital Services Act pitched the idea of greater transparency obligations for platforms in the field of targeted advertising, amongst other requirements in the field of content regulation. Read more.


Facebook partnerships to fight against COVID-19

Working together is more important than ever in the fight against COVID-19. In Spain, the World Bank is using Facebook’s Disease Prevention Maps to forecast needs for COVID-19 testing and hospital beds. Learn more about how we’re collaborating to keep communities safe and informed at about.fb.com/europe.


Data

Damian Collins on problems with platform economy. Meanwhile, speaking at the same event held by ACT, UK MP Damian Collins noted that the problem with the platform economy isn’t necessarily the challenge of content removal or moderation but “a business model that makes money out of holding people’s attention”.

Google warns against targeted advertising ban, highlights third-party cookie phase-out. As various MEPs start to build up a case against targeted and behavioural advertising, including most prominently the S&D group with their AdsZuck campaign, Google insists that the web would not be what it is today without targeted ads.

In a briefing with reporters on Thursday, Matt Brittin, Google’s EMEA president, defended the benefits of targeted advertising in the business models of many press publishers.

“The open and affordable web is only possible today because of advertising. It partly or fully funds, all of the services we enjoy today whether it’s journalism, or apps or games, all of the tools we use online are wholly or partly funded by advertising,” he said.

“If you were to ban targeted advertising, what you earn for your journalism or what the developer owns for their app would significantly fall because targeted advertising is more relevant. It works better for the advertiser it pays more for the publisher”.

Brittin was keen to contrast Google’s stance on targeted advertising with the announcement this week that the company would seek to phase out third-party cookies. “What we’re trying to do with the move we announced yesterday is to recognise that consumers are really concerned about how tracking and privacy protection does or doesn’t work for them,” he said.

EU press publishers concerned about Google Privacy Sandbox. EU press publishers meanwhile are concerned about Google’s phase-out of third-party cookies on its services. “The company had previously announced its intention to implement such a phase-out by the end of 2022. This will affect the advertising market and disrupt the business model of the digital press,” a statement from press lobbies EMMA and ENPA said this week.

CJEU ruling on ‘electronic communications data’ for ‘serious crime.’ In a ruling at the Court of Justice of the European Union this week, judges said that access to location data harvested from electronic communications should be used only for law enforcement investigations involving ‘serious crimes,’ and to “prevent serious threats to public security.”

New ICO chief will be asked to support UK data goals. The UK’s digital secretary Oliver Dowden has said that the replacement for Elizabeth Dowden, the UK’s Information Commissioner, will not only be focusing on privacy and data protection issues. In an Op-Ed for the FT this week, Dowden said that the “next Information Commissioner will not just be asked to focus on privacy, but also be empowered to ensure people can use data to achieve economic and social goals.”

Italy DPA warning on COVID vaccination passes. Italy’s data protection authority said this week that so-called ‘vaccination passes’ should be used to erode certain privacy protection and should not be used as “a condition for access to certain premises or for the use of certain services,” including airports, hotels and gyms.

Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act. The US state of Virginia passed its first Consumer Data Protection Act on Tuesday (2 March). The state is the second in America to approve its own data privacy legislation, following only California, reports Mariana Labbate.

Every company in Virginia that controls the data of 100,000 people or more per year falls under the regulations – this number, however, only includes consumers and not employees. The Act also focuses on transparency and data policies’ disclosure, especially for mergers and acquisitions. Non-profits, higher education institutions and Virginian government agencies are considered exempted institutions.

Data Governance compromise text. Portuguese Presidency’s compromise text on the EU Data Governance Act is now available to the public. Read it here.

Dutch Ministers with Google Gsuite concerns. Dutch Education Ministers Van Engelshoven and Slob have written to the Tweede Kamer with information on Data Protection Impact Assessments on Google and Microsoft – highlighting concerns with Gsuite in particular. Read the letter here.

Digital Services Act / Digital Markets Act

Commission increasingly aware of online marketplace – social media convergence. Speaking at Forum Europe’s online event on the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act this week, Prabhat Agarwal, head of unit for eCommerce and responsible for drawing up the DSA text, noted that the EU executive is well aware of the blurring divisions between social media platforms and online marketplaces, such as Instagram and TikTok, for example.

“We’ve taken note of the recent acquisitions or partnerships between social media companies and eCommerce providers,” he said, adding that the Commission believes that in the future “there will be a much less distinction” between social media and online marketplaces. “I frequently mention my teenage kids and I can guarantee that their attention is very much on social media platforms but these are also places that increasingly they come across goods and services,” he added.

Dutch on DMA ‘struggles.’ For the member states themselves, Dutch Economy Minister Mona Keijzer backed the Commission’s vision for the Digital Markets Act but also referred to various ‘struggles’ that had emerged in the process of drawing up the text in Brussels.

“We did struggle with a number of legislative questions,” she said. “Questions like how to maintain momentum, how to guarantee legal certainty, and how to ensure rules are future proof and flexible. But in the end, the Commission has done an excellent job.”

Keijzer also referred to a position paper recently published by the Dutch, which stated that more attention should be paid to whether platforms offer an ‘ecosystem’ of many different services in terms of designating them as so-called ‘gatekeeper platforms.’ More on that here.

Cédric O calls for ‘right balance.’ Meanwhile, French Digital Secretary Cédric O said EU member states need to find the right balance in the Digital Services Act in terms of clamping down on hateful content and preserving free speech – he added that this issue, in particular, could divide EU nations in ongoing negotiations. For its part, France is keen on tough rules for hate speech online.

Poles on user rights. Polish Chancellery Secretary Marek Zagórski rallied the calls for the DSA and the DMA to transfer more rights to users in the online economy. “We want to strengthen the user’s position in relation to large internet platforms. All entities must comply with certain requirements, but the greatest responsibility should rest on the biggest platforms,” a statement from him read after the event.

Czechs on DMA and DSA. The Czech parliament has issued a preliminary response to Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act, to the Commission, raising their concerns. “The proposals do not take sufficient account of the monopoly position of multinational internet players, the interoperability of user data, the protection of cryptographically protected user data,” the submission states.

The Czechs also state that decisions on the illegality of online content removal should be left to independent courts & notes that there are “risks associated with applying cross-border content removal orders without the consent of the court.” Read the letter to Commission President von der Leyen here and the full submission here.

Swedes on broader DMA scope. As part of a report published last week by the Swedish Competition Authority, the organisation raises concerns over the targeted nature of the scope. “In the SCA’s opinion, the proposal has the potential to remedy some of the competition concerns identified in this report. However, the regulation would only apply to certain large platforms that have been designated as gatekeepers, amongst other things, based on their position in a significant part of the internal market.”

“This means that a potential regulation would probably exclude many platforms, e.g. platforms that only operate in one member state,” the report notes.

Vestager pressed on DMA in ITRE. Yesterday, the Commission’s Vice-President for Digital, Margarethe Vestager, fielded questions from MEPs in Parliament Industry committee. For his part, Rasmus Andresen, shadow rapporteur for the Greens on the committee’s report, wants to see more attention paid to the interoperability of messenger services as part of the Digital Markets Act.

“What is absolutely taken for granted with mails and SMS, should also be valid for online messenger services. We have to commit online messenger services to interoperate with other services. Consumers should be able to forward messages from WhatsApp to Telegram or Signal or vice versa,” he said.

Digital Markets Act Rapporteurs confirmed. The Internal Market’s negotiating team for the DMA has now been completed. Here are the names you need to keep an eye on:

Lead rapporteur: Andreas Schwab (EPP)

Shadows: Evelyne Gebhardt (S&D), Andrus Ansip (Renew), Virginie Joron (Identity and Democracy), Martin Schirdewan (GUE/NGL), Adam Bielan (ECR), Marcel Kolaja (Greens).

Platforms

Protecting Gig workers. The European Commission will attempt to protect the future of platform workers in the EU by setting minimum standards and potentially enforcing pension entitlements and insurance obligations.

Future legislation on improving the working conditions of platform workers is set to be put forward by the EU executive later this year. Meanwhile, a public consultation has been launched on the plans as a means to identify the means by which platform workers can be afforded more labour rights in the upcoming rules.

Speaking at an online event on Wednesday, the Commission’s Joost Korte, director-general for employment, social affairs and inclusion, said the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need to protect platform workers as part of new EU rules, including introducing pension entitlements and insurance obligations.

The EU executive is also reflecting on “algorithm management” within platform economy work. “When you are asked to do a job by a computer, what does this mean for the relationship between the employer and the employee?” Korte said, noting that this question was something the Commission would seek to address in the upcoming legislation. Read more.

Dutch political ads on Twitter. After Dutch disinformation monitoring platform Kieskijker unearthed evidence of Dutch Libertarian Party political ads on Twitter (political ads are banned on the platform globally), Twitter announced that it removed the ads that had appeared. The ads had however already been viewed thousands of times. Context: Netherlands general election will take place on 17 March.

EU platform observatory group. The Commission has published an updated list of members of the Expert Group to the EU Observatory on the Online Platform Economy as of March 2021. The group advises the EC on platform economy policy.

Brussels Vs Uber. The Brussels local government said earlier this week that Uber drivers are no longer permitted to use their smartphones for picking up rides in the EU capital. “The Constitutional Court is currently assessing whether drivers can use their smartphone to receive trip requests in Brussels,” an Uber spokesperson said.

Competition

UK CMA Vs Apple. US tech giant Apple’s allegedly ‘unfair’ terms and conditions for developers using the company’s App store are set to come under the microscope of the UK’s competition regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Artificial Intelligence

MEPs and US counterparts on AI collaboration, and obstacles. European Parliament representatives from the Special Committee on AI and US Congresswoman Robin Kelly met on Monday, 1 March, to discuss AI use and the convergence of its regulations between both administrations, writes Mariana Labbate.

When asked about obstacles between EU-US cooperation, Kelly affirmed that the US will not share defence or national security data. “There is fear that an EU AI law could harm interoperability and cooperation, particularly for defence when NATO countries join forces on the battlefield”.

However, Kelly affirmed their equipment should be able to “talk to each other” and “reduce friction as much as possible”.

The Congresswoman added that the Biden administration is working towards a better AI framework, mentioning that the US National Security Commission on AI is releasing their final report to the president and to Congress today. Said report follows G20 AI guidelines, and Kelly suggested both EU and US administrations continue to do so.

All speakers also agreed that China is currently a leader in the global AI market, which could be detrimental to democratic values. Kristin de Peyron, director for Global and Multilateral Issues at the European External Action Service, called China’s current regulation “authoritarian”. To her, the cooperation between the EU and the US is “not only desirable, it is necessary”.

Student surveillance. Requiring students to submit to biometric surveillance should be illegal, writes Dr Nakeema Stefflbauer. Her comments come after her child recently received instructions for the entrance exam of a public university in the Netherlands. The mandatory software for all students who wish to apply to the school? Proctorio, which raises data protection and surveillance concerns, Stefflbauer says.

Facebook’s biometrics for smart glasses. Facebook’s forthcoming smart glasses product due to launch this year, may implement facial biometric features, reports Buzzfeed.

MEP: Don’t discount ‘human element’ in digital transition. Representatives of the industry are ready to digitalise small businesses, but MEP Josianne Cutajar believes that the human component in future services should not be discounted.

In a EURACTIV panel held on 2 March, speakers representing different sectors and business models discussed the impact of digitalisation in times of COVID, focusing on the tourism sector.

Stanford AI index. This week, Stanford University has published its Artificial Intelligence Index, highlighting the “effect of COVID-19 on AI development from multiple perspectives, including how AI helps with COVID-related drug discovery and the effect of the pandemic on hiring and private investment.”

Media

Jourova in support for EU media. The European Commission spoke of bolstering support for Europe’s media sector which is facing an economic crisis, as part of a EURACTIV event on Wednesday.

“Strengthening media freedom and pluralism is a key objective of the European Democracy Action Plan, along with free and fair elections and the fight against disinformation,” Jourova told the Media4Europe summit, which launched the second edition of the Stars4Media program, co-financed by the European Union.

Facebook news partnerships in Germany. Facebook announced this week new partnerships with German national news organisations, including Die Zeit, Der Spiegel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Funke Mediengruppe, Handelsblatt Media Group, & Tagesspiegel.

Telecoms

Commission’s pursuit for 6G. The Commission is keen to make the most of its recent adoption of a Joint Undertaking on Smart Networks and Services (SNS) towards 6G. In a blog post this week, the head of unit for future connectivity systems, Peter Stuckmann, says the executive “put forward this proposal on a European partnership on Smart Networks and Services (SNS) to enable European players to build the R&I capacities for 6G systems and develop lead markets for 5G infrastructure as a basis for the digital and green transformation.”

Money

EU buoyed by US moves on Digital Tax. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz described the US’s recent decision to drop certain parts of ‘safe harbour’ position on an international Digital Tax agreement as a ‘huge step forward’ on the plans. Under Donald Trump, the US had previously said that large tech firms would only have had to abide by the rules on a voluntary basis.

Cybersecurity

ENISA and CERT sign MoU. EU cyber agency ENISA and the Computer Emergency Response Team for the EU Institutions, Bodies and Agencies (CERT-EU) have this week announced a joint Memorandum of Understanding that will enhance “enhance the synergies between the two organisations” and avoid “overlaps or duplication of activities” in the context of EU cybersecurity policy.

French dairy in cyber attack. One of the world’s largest food product firms, The Lactalis Group, based in France, disclosed this week that it was hit by a cyberattack. At this stage, it is believed that no data breach has taken place.

Environment

Portuguese consumer group against Apple’s planned obsolesce. “Since 2017, Apple has intentionally resorted to strategies to reduce the life of iPhones,” a statement from Portuguese consumer group Deco Proteste says, adding that they plan to take the US tech giant to court over the matter, following similar developments in Belgium, Spain and Italy.

Coronavirus

Digital Green ‘Certificate’ March 17. The Commission will present a proposal for the Digital Green ‘certificate’ on March 17. The EU executive is no longer referring to it as a ‘pass.’

French ministry to explain integrating Doctolib into COVID-vaccine booking system. France’s solidarity and health ministry will have to defend its choice to integrate medical portal Doctolib, which uses Amazon’s hosting services, into its online booking system for COVID-19 vaccinations before the Council of State on 8 March. Read the full story.

Czechs fall for COVID-19 conspiracy theories. Around 40% of Czech internet users believe in conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey conducted by the STEM agency revealed. Read more.

EU domains

EU domains. After a previous mistake in the call for selections for the EU’s domain name registry (which would have allowed UK applicants), a new call has been published this week.

On my radar

What else I’m reading this week:

  • Facebook’s Oversight Board already ‘a bit frustrated’ — and it hasn’t made a call on Trump ban yet (TechCrunch)
  • Twitter will ban you for spreading COVID-19 vaccine misinformation (The Next Web)
  • Alan Rusbridger says Oversight Board will ask to see Facebook’s algorithm (The Guardian)
  • Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun explains why we’ll never love AI (Wired)
  • Australia’s new ‘hacking’ powers considered too wide-ranging and coercive by OAIC (ZDNet)