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The EU’s strict new rules for online content

The Digital Services Act is another landmark piece of legislation from the EU which demands tech companies take control of content moderation.

An agreement was reached on the EU’s Digital Services Act after more than 16 hours of negotiations that began on Friday (22 April).

The core principle of the Digital Services Act is that what is illegal offline will be illegal online. “Not as a slogan, as reality,” tweeted European commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

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European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that the “historic” agreement on these rules “will protect users online, ensure freedom of expression and opportunities for businesses”.

Amnesty International agreed this was a landmark moment for tech regulation, but legal and policy adviser Claudia Prettner flagged a “missed opportunity” to “phase out all invasive surveillance-based advertising practices”.

What is the Digital Services Act?

The EU has billed the Digital Services Act (DSA) as “a world first in the field of digital regulation”. It sets out to make the internet safer with new rules for all digital services, from social media platforms to search engines to online marketplaces and more.

It was first proposed in December 2020 along with the Digital Markets Act, and follows in the footsteps of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), another watershed piece of EU legislation.

Where GDPR focuses on data protection and privacy and the Digital Markets Act takes aim the market dominance of Big Tech, the focus of the Digital Services Act is illegal content and the protection of users’ rights.

“Citizens will have better control over how their data are used by online platforms and Big Tech companies,” said rapporteur Christel Schaldemose. “These new rules also guarantee more choice for users and new obligations for platforms on targeted ads, including bans to target minors and restricting data harvesting for profiling.”

How will this impact Big Tech?

The measures set out in the Digital Services Act are proportionate to the scale of platforms.

“Very large” platforms are defined as those with more than 45m monthly active users in the EU, and these will face more stringent requirements. This figure will continue to be adjusted to represent 10pc of the EU population.

All major tech platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube, TikTok and Amazon will qualify as very large platforms.

These platforms will be required to stay on top of content moderation and expect annual audits of these practices.

The act also calls for simple measures for users to flag content and for swift action to be taken on such reports.

Platforms with fewer than 45m monthly active users as well as businesses that qualify as micro or small enterprises will be exempt from some obligations of the DSA.

What counts as illegal content?

The illegal content targeted under the Digital Services Act is broad and sweeping. It includes hate speech, child sexual abuse material, scams, non-consensual sharing of private images, promotion of terrorism, the sale of counterfeit or unsafe products and copyright infringement.

For marketplaces, the onus is on them to vet third-party traders and ensure products and services sold there are genuine and safe. This means adopting Know Your Business Customer principles à la the practices used to vet financial services users. The act also expects marketplaces to conduct randomised checks for illegal content.

Is there more to it than illegal content?

Yes, much more.

Very large platforms need to be able to monitor and manage any harmful content, which includes disinformation.

Platforms are also going to have to ensure their interfaces don’t intentionally mislead users using what the European Parliament calls “dark patterns”.

These tricks of UI include manipulative ‘nudge tactics’ such as giving more prominence to certain buttons or links that will lead users to opt in to something, while obscuring the steps to opt out. According to the Digital Services Act, cancelling a subscription should be as easy as subscribing.

What about targeted content?

Remarkably, the EU is also demanding access to platforms’ recommendations engines to ensure algorithmic accountability and transparency. The algorithms that recommend content to users are very much the secret sauce of online platforms and not something they will be keen to expose. (Though advocates for ‘explainable AI’ argue that this makes systems more trustworthy and could drive innovation.)

On the users’ side, platforms will have to offer the option to swich off any profiling used for recommendations.

Ad targeting also takes a hit under these rules. Users are to be given more control over the advertising they are exposed to while targeting users based on sensitive information such as religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation is now prohibited.

And when it comes to children, all ad targeting is effectively banned. In fact, where platforms are aware of users that are minors, they will be required to have special protection measures in place.

Is that it?

The Digital Services Act also includes provisions for a crisis response mechanism. These measures make sense in light of recent crises such as the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where disinformation campaigns have been used to manipulate users and cause harm.

In times of crisis, the EU will decide proportionate measures to mitigate the impact of such content manipulation, limited to a three-month time frame.

What happens if the rules are broken?

Users will have the right to seek redress for any damages or losses incurred due to infringements of the DSA.

Regulators who find businesses to be non-compliant will be able to issue fines of up to 6pc of global turnover. For a multi-platform giant such as Meta, this would amount to about $7bn.

It’s a higher threshold than GDPR fines, which go up to 4pc of global turnover, and lower than the Digital Markets Act, which can penalise for up to 10pc, or 20p in the case of repeated infringements.

Repeat violators of the Digital Services Act, however, could face an outright ban across the EU.

Who will enforce these rules?

When it comes to the Big Tech players, the EU will be directly involved with supervision, in cooperation with member states. Other entities and requirements covered by the DSA will be supervised by regulators in the country of origin.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1, Dr Johnny Ryan from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties dubbed this a “missed opportunity” for Ireland to be a “super regulator” under the DSA, seeing as so many of the major tech players are based here.

In the December 2020 proposal for the Digital Services Act, the European Commission estimated it would be actively monitoring 20 to 25 very large platforms, requiring a team of about 50 to be in place by 2025.

This work will reportedly be supported by the companies that are the subject of the act, through a supervisory fee of up to 0.1pc of annual global net income. This is could accrue €20m to €30m per year, according to Reuters.

By comparison, the Irish Data Protection Commission, which is charged with investigating the GDPR compliance of many tech giants in the EU, currently has a budget of €23.2m for 2022.

What happens next?

The text of the Digital Services Act is still being finalised by the EU’s legal language experts. Once this has been prepared, the act needs to be formally approved. It will then come into force 20 days after publication.

Companies will then have 15 months to comply before the rules come into force. It is expected this will bring enforcement of the Digital Services Act into 2024.

Next month, European Parliament representatives will visit the US headquarters of major tech companies such as Meta, Google and Apple, to hear their position on this and other digital legislation in the pipeline.

This legislation could also have a knock-on effect across the Atlantic, as happened with the implementation of GDPR. There are legislators in the US who have been calling for tighter regulation of online platforms, and other prominent figures who support such measures.

Earlier this week, former US president Barack Obama spoke of the need for regulation to tackle disinformation while former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was cheering the DSA over the line.

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Margrethe Vestager pictured at the European Parliament. Image: © European Union 2019. Source: EP (CC-BY-4.0)



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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.


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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.


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Aviation and Telecom Industries Reach Compromise on 5G Deployment

The Voice Of EU | In a significant development, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest mobile network operators in the United States, have agreed to delay the deployment of 5G services following requests from the aviation industry and the Biden administration. This decision marks a crucial compromise in the long-standing dispute between the two industries, which had raised concerns over the potential interference of 5G with flight signals.
The aviation industry, led by United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, had been vocal about the risks of 5G deployment, citing concerns over the safety of flight operations. Kirby had urged AT&T and Verizon to delay their plans, warning that proceeding with the deployment would be a “catastrophic failure of government.” The US Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue further highlighted the need for a solution.
In response, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) head Steve Dickson sent a letter to the mobile networks, requesting a two-week delay to reassess the potential risks. Initially, AT&T and Verizon were hesitant, citing the aviation industry’s two-year preparation window. However, they eventually agreed to the short delay, pushing the deployment to January 19.
The crux of the issue lies in the potential interference between 5G signals and flight equipment, particularly radar altimeters. The C-Band spectrum used by 5G networks is close to the frequencies employed by these critical safety devices. The FAA requires accurate and reliable radar altimeters to ensure safe flight operations.

Airlines in the US have been at loggerheads with mobile networks over the deployment of 5G and its potential impact on flight safety.

Despite the concerns, both the FAA and the telecoms industry agree that 5G mobile networks and airline travel can coexist safely. In fact, they already do in nearly 40 countries where US airlines operate regularly. The key lies in reducing power levels around airports and fostering cross-industry collaboration prior to deployment.
The FAA has been working to find a solution in the United States, and the additional two-week delay will allow for further assessment and preparation. AT&T and Verizon have also agreed to not operate 5G base stations along runways for six months, similar to restrictions imposed in France.
President Joe Biden hailed the decision to delay as “a significant step in the right direction.” The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and South Korea have also reported no unsafe interference with radio waves since the deployment of 5G in their regions.
As the aviation and telecom industries continue to work together, it is clear that safe coexistence is possible. The delay in 5G deployment is a crucial step towards finding a solution that prioritizes both safety and innovation. With ongoing collaboration and technical assessments, the United States can join the growing list of countries where 5G and airlines coexist without issue.

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