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UPDATED: Amazon Faces Tougher Scrutiny Under EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA)

UPDATE 09/06/2023: The European Union has intensified its efforts to curb the dominance of Amazon, Alphabet, Apple, Meta, Microsoft, and ByteDance in the region. This move involves the implementation of comprehensive regulations designed to provide consumers with greater choices and level the playing field for fair competition.

According to the Commission, a total of 22 core platform services operated by these six “gatekeepers” have been designated for regulation under the Digital Markets Act (DMA)

The DMA consists of a set of rules, or “dos and don’ts,” that aims to streamline users’ ability to:

  • Transition seamlessly between rival services – for example, making it possible for WhatsApp users to send messages to others without needing to be concerned about which messaging platform they are using.
  • Retain control over the use of their data for personalized advertising. Gatekeepers must ensure that performance data regarding ad campaigns and pricing information for ads are accessible to business users.
  • Exercise a choice in selecting their preferred search engine or web browser rather than being constrained by default settings. 

“The most impactful online companies will now have to play by our EU rules,” European Commissioner Thierry Breton said on X, previously known as Twitter.

“DMA means more choice for consumers. Fewer obstacles for smaller competitors. Opening the gates to the Internet.”

This also means Amazon could soon be prohibited from ranking their own in-house brands or services higher than their competitors in search results pages, as covered in the “don’ts” section of the DMA.

The retail giant already started providing European shoppers with more choices when it settled antitrust investigations by agreeing to giving sellers equal treatment on the platform’s Buy Box and adding another “buy box” with a different delivery option or price for the same product.

To enforce compliance, fines of up to 10% of the company’s global revenue loom overhead, and there’s even the potential for the tech giants to begin to divest specific segments of their operations in order to secure their foothold in the European market.

DMA is set to take full effect in six months, during which the six gatekeepers will be required to communicate their strategies for compliance with the digital act to the Commission.
Related: Amazon Faces Backlash for Alleged Abusive Practices, FTC Lawsuit Alleges Amazon of Tricking and Trapping Customers into Recurring Prime Subscriptions

A cohort of corporate giants, including Amazon, Apple, and an additional 17 industry leaders, have been identified and classified by the European Union (EU) as “very large” online platforms or search engines.

Consequently, these companies are subject to enhanced scrutiny and more stringent regulatory measures, accompanied by the possibility of substantial fines should they veer from the newly established Digital Services Act (DSA) within the region.

Obligations Under the DSA

In late 2020, the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, laid out a fresh set of services-related regulations aimed at intensifying oversight of tech behemoths.

These regulations, known as the Digital Services Act (DSA), have been in effect for approximately four months now, granting regulators the authority to actively monitor online content, curbing the spread of harmful comments, and establishing guidelines for the utilization of AI.

This significant step highlights EU’s commitment to fostering a safer online environment and ensuring responsible practices by big tech operating within its jurisdiction. These platforms are defined as entities that reach a significant number of users (more than 45 million active users) and that have a significant impact on the EU market.

The DSA intends to impose various obligations on these major platforms, such as:

More user empowerment and protection

DSA aims to empower users and protect their rights online. Users will have clearer information about recommended content and the ability to opt-out of profiling-based recommendation systems.

Platforms must diligently process reports of illegal content from users. Advertisements based on sensitive user data are prohibited, and platforms must label ads and disclose the promoters. Tech giants are also required to provide easily understandable summaries of their terms and conditions in the languages of the Member States where they operate.

Overall, the DSA prioritizes user empowerment, combating illegal content, protecting privacy, enhancing advertising transparency, and improving communication online.

Increased transparency

Platforms will be required to provide clear information about their terms and conditions, content moderation policies, and advertising practices. They may also need to undergo third-party audits to assess their compliance with the DSA’s requirements.

Strong protection of minors

Platforms will be required to undertake significant system redesigns to prioritize the privacy, security, and safety of minors. Specifically, platforms must implement measures that safeguard children from targeted advertising based on profiling techniques, ensuring their online experiences are free from such practices. 

To assess the potential risks to minors’ mental health and well-being, platforms will need to conduct special risk assessments. These assessments must be provided to the Commission within four months of designation and, at the latest, be made publicly available within a year. 

By doing so, platforms will contribute to a better understanding of the potential negative effects on mental health associated with their services.

Content moderation and removal

Platforms will be expected to implement effective measures to combat illegal content, hate speech, and disinformation. They will also be required to provide mechanisms for users to appeal content removal decisions.

The companies falling under the scope of the DSA regulations are given a grace period of four months to facilitate a smooth transition, enabling them to adapt the new antitrust policies and procedures within a reasonable timeframe.

Non-compliance with these provisions may result in significant consequences, including potential fines amounting to 6% of the company’s global turnover.

In more severe cases of persistent non-compliance, platforms could face temporary bans from operating within the EU. These stringent measures underscore the importance of adhering to the DSA guidelines and reinforce the commitment to ensuring a responsible and accountable digital environment.

Impact of EU’s Digital Acts on American Online Service Providers

In this report dated November 2022, economist Kati Suominen estimates that the EU’s DSA and Digital Markets Act (DMA) would cost leading US digital service providers like Amazon between $22B and $50B in additional compliance and operational costs. 🧐

As a result, this might force them to either pass the added costs to their customers or let go of crucial business opportunities in the region. 

Suominen also believes that “if US digital services increased their costs on American companies by just 5% due to EU regulation, US companies could incur over $97B in new costs, with $45B carried by SMEs.”

Sellers currently selling in or planning to expand to the EU should watch closely how Amazon will respond to its DSA obligations. More importantly, sellers should brace for any potential cost increases once Amazon starts implementing new compliance requirements related to these digital acts.

Related: EU Advised by NGOs to Refuse Amazon’s Flawed Proposal for Antitrust Settlement, Amazon Faces Backlash for Alleged Abusive Practices, Why Amazon Wants You to Lobby Congress

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