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European Union’s next step in supervising big tech companies

The European Union has taken another step in its plan to supervise big tech companies. The European Centre for Algorithmic Transparency (ECAT) inaugurated in Seville, Spain will be a tool in enforcing the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) that from February applies to regulate big tech, big social media and search engines.

“The DSA responds to the increasing need to unveil and better understand the technologies that drive platforms business models. The creation of ECAT allows the Commission to level-up its technical expertise in the field of data science and algorithms. ECAT will pool top-notch experts to support the Commission’s new tasks as regulator, and will become the reference for research around algorithmic transparency”, the Commission says.

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The Commission’s VP, Margrethe Vestager says the ECAT is “going to look under the hood of the Very Large Online Platforms and Very Large Online Search Engines for the first time to see how their algorithms function and contribute to the spread of illegal and harmful content, which too many Europeans have been exposed to”.

The Commission in a statement says the ECAT will provide the Commission with in-house technical and scientific expertise to ensure that algorithmic systems used by the Very Large Online Platforms and Very Large Online Search Engines comply with the risk management, mitigation and transparency requirements in the DSA.” 

“This includes, amongst other tasks, the performance of technical analyses and evaluations of algorithms. An interdisciplinary team of data scientists, AI experts, social scientists and legal experts will combine their expertise to assess their functioning and propose best practices to mitigate their impact.”

“This will be crucial to ensure the thorough analysis of the transparency reports and risk self-assessment submitted by the designated companies, and to carry out inspections to their systems whenever required by the.” 

“ECAT researchers will not only focus on identifying and addressing systemic risks stemming from Very Large Online Platforms and Very Large Online Search Engines, but also investigate the long-term societal impact of algorithms.”

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DIGITAL SERVICES ACT, a short summary

  • Aims to create a safer online space for users, stricter rules for platforms
  • The DSA establishes a “notice and action” mechanism, as well as safeguards, for the removal of illegal content.
  • Online platforms must be transparent about how algorithms work and platforms should be accountable for decisions they make.
  • Measures to counter illegal products, services and content online, including clearly defined procedures for removals
  • Mandatory risk assessments and more transparency over “recommender systems” to fight harmful content and disinformation
  • Online platforms should be prohibited from using deceiving or nudging techniques to influence users’ behaviour through “dark patterns”
  • Targeted advertising: the text provides for more transparent and informed choice for all recipients of services, including information on how their data will be monetised and to better protect minors from direct marketing, profiling and behaviourally targeted advertising for commercial purposes
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