OPINION: EU Takes Tech to Task, but Needs Tact



The European Union is ahead of the U.S. in establishing digital regulations, and EU officials have imposed a slew of fines against Silicon Valley tech companies for antitrust and other violations, as Politico reports. However, the EU still lacks consensus on how to control cyberspace. Disagreement between member states and levels of government demonstrates that the European “techlash” is neither homogeneous nor guaranteed to succeed.

States have marketed national regulatory proposals to the bloc as a whole, as France did in advocating EU-wide “digital taxes” on tech corporations. Other members retain strong tech industry ties and obstruct a policy push that only superficially seems unified.  

In March, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland blocked France’s EU tax proposal. However, on April 8, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager encouraged member states to implement national digital taxes rather than waiting for a bloc-wide consensus, according to Politico.

Conversely, tech lobbyists and internet/free speech rights advocates use federalism and the rift between EU officials and national electorates to reverse policies that have passed at the EU level.

On March 26, the European Parliament passed a copyright reform containing a controversial provision called Article 13, which forces platforms to filter and remove any infringing uploaded content that violates licensing deals. The Washington Post quoted a senior tech lobbyist’s reaction: “We urge Member States to...minimize the consequences of the text when implementing it.”

Tech companies also face pressure for their platforms’ role in spreading harmful content. NPR reports that a U.K. proposal, released April 8, outlines a “duty of care” for tech companies to ensure news accuracy, the absence of hate speech, and other conditions. Opponents object that the “duty” is too broad and that it encourages platform “‘over-censor[ship]’” and user “self-censorship.”  

The question of whether and how to hold platforms responsible for fake news, bigotry, or obscenity is particularly salient ahead of May’s European Parliament elections. According to Politico, a small cohort of “hyper-users” generates disproportionate quantities of social media content in support of radical or populist parties.

While combating digital delinquency is admirable, the EU and its members are still debating, and they need to complement strictness and sense of urgency with savvy.