CEE Digital Coalition Appeal: Safe, Fair, and Welcoming Digital Space for All

We, the organisations representing the digital and advanced technologies industry of Central Eastern European countries, associated as CEE Digital Coalition, continuing our efforts for building competitive and innovative, digital economy as well as prosperous, advanced civil society in our region by staying deeply engaged in building digital competence, driving investments in advanced technologies, striving for common access to the internet, digital services as well as responsible data management, and showing support for start-ups and SMEs of Central Eastern Europe, wish to once more address the Digital Services Act (DSA).

As the final shape of the Act will greatly affect the digital industry and enterprises building it, including SMEs, vital to the growth of our region as well as consumers enjoying the digital landscape in CEE and the European Union as a whole, we wish to share comments and concerns we deem crucial for any further work in the European Parliament in the light of recently published amendments’ proposals. We believe that it is in the best interest of Central Eastern European countries’ digital economies and modern societies to:

Refrain from imposing a general, indiscriminatory ban on use of personalised ads (via targeted advertising).

As the mechanism of targeted advertising remains a staple, and often the only affordable, viable tool for our region’s SMEs for reaching their audiences, we urge the Members of the European Parliament to picture the impact of a potential ban on these businesses, which lay at the foundations of our countries’ economies. We ask for the Representatives to consider other means of regulating the tool by e.g. allowing users to opt-out of being shown targeted ads with no impact on the platform functionality and informing them about demonetisation of their data. We believe that a general ban would be of no benefit to the advertisers or the consumers.

Related amendments: AM 498, AM 542, AM 547, AM 554

Avoid developing a must-carry obligation for online platforms in regard to journalistic content, which may lead to spread of disinformation.

In line with our previous appeals and statements, we wish to point out that a lack of a universal definition of a publisher, allowing virtually any party to become one, may be abused to disseminate fake news and disinformation under the guise of media activity. We still believe that only by considering exceptions in terms of content, rather than creators can allow fair treatment and universal exercising of the freedom of speech by users, including journalists. This freedom should be secured by equal right to an appeal granted by the Act. Moreover, we voice our concern that spread of disinformation and fake news can not be stopped with mechanisms in place requiring platforms to contact a user considered a publisher before reacting to content shared by said user.

Related amendments: AM 493, AM 511, AM 513

Reconsider the scope of exceptions allowing for automated removal of content, i.e. filtering.

In light of the absolute necessity of using means of automated moderation of content in the modern online landscape due to the sheer volume of data shared by users and the ever-present risks related to harmful and illegal content being shared, we wish to warn the European Parliament about issuing a wide ban on automated moderation tools, allowing for their very limited use, which may prove to render many services enjoyed by the online community unmanageable.

Related amendments: AM 503, AM 517

Respect the principle of prohibiting general monitoring obligations and be wary of introducing obligations of immediate removal of content, which may result in excessive take-downs.

Once more we remind the Representatives about the unviable nature of general monitoring obligations. It is also our opinion that requirements for immediate removal in case of time-sensitive content and live broadcasting could lead to overzealous removal of users’ content, harming their freedom of expression and negatively affecting their experience.

Related amendments: AM 509, AM 515

Remain cautious about limiting platforms’ tools for tailoring content to their users’ needs.

We wish to stress that recommendation systems are a staple of modern online platforms, are often necessary to respect the users’ safety (i.e. in case of content dedicated to certain age groups). We deem it impossible to force such systems to be based on e.g. chronological order, have personalized recommendations systems operate based on users’ opt-in decision or via input from a third party. Following such solutions may lead to poor user experience as well as insufficient protection of personal data or even violation of privacy protection laws already in place (GDPR, Directive on privacy and electronic communications) and should therefore be avoided.

Related amendments: AM 469, AM 508, AM 556, AM 559

Respect the e-commerce Directive and underlying goals of DSA itself while designing regulations affecting online marketplaces.

It is our opinion that stripping online marketplaces of their safe harbor provisions and affecting them with stay-down obligations may lead to deterioration of their relationship with small businesses due to an increased liability risk and effectively harms innocent SMEs looking to benefit from using online marketplaces as well. Moreover, we believe that it violates the e-commerce Directive as well as the basic provisions of DSA.

Related amendments: AM 482, AM 486, AM 490, AM 548

Secure the access of SMEs to online tools by providing reasonable Know Your Business Customer (KYBC) obligations.

Forcing intermediaries to perform background checks on their business users according to due diligence requirements in order to confirm the submitted information may cause many small and medium enterprises to lose access to vital online perks (e.g. visibility in maps services and social media)  or complicate using them by imposing a requirement of prior data verification. Such a provision imposes a tiresome obligation on both the intermediaries and the SMEs.

Related amendments: AM 512, AM 532, AM 533, AM 534, AM 535, AM 536

We call for the Members of the European Parliament to consider the impact of the Digital Services Act on the digital landscape in which Small and Medium Enterprises, consumers and platforms alike wish to thrive. We urge them to avoid developing regulations making the Digital Single Market a hostile, complicated and unwelcoming place for any of the groups mentioned above. It is our belief that comments and concerns raised in this appeal should provide our representatives in the European Parliament with guidance necessary to achieve  the fundamental goal of creating a safer digital space where the fundamental rights of users are protected and a level playing field for businesses is established with respect for their rights.

The European Parliament Approved the Digital Services Act, January 20, 2022 (Bulgarian Version)

AmCham Bulgaria joined the CEE Digital Coalition in October 2021.