Brussels says it intends to pursue Big Tech with new rules

Brussels has warned that it plans to focus its upcoming regulations on Big Tech, even as Silicon Valley’s largest companies argue they should not be singled out for more stringent control.

“We have to give them more responsibility. That’s the core moment we are in,” said Vera Jourova, a European Commission vice-president, whose upcoming European Democracy Action Plan will tackle online disinformation and how to guarantee free and fair elections in the bloc.

“I have to count with some resistance. Whatever we come up with will create more requirements which will mean more money, more people, more responsibility,” she added, in an interview with the Financial Times.

She spoke as more than 300 submissions, including those from Facebook and Google, were made to the EU on the plan. Proposals for new regulations on political advertising and election periods are expected as soon as December.

In its submission to the EU, Facebook argued that there should be a level playing field, with all tech companies facing a similar regulatory burden, according to notes seen by the FT. It added that it has been proactive in tackling disinformation online.

But EU officials said a one-size-fits-all approach could “choke the smaller players” in red tape.

The EU is also likely to increase its focus on disinformation in the light of harmful rumours during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have forgotten the manipulative power of disinformation,” she said. “Disinformation has the potential to create an easy-to-manipulate crowd”.

“We are not wasting time on stupid, innocent rumours,” she said. “We are dealing with something that has real potential to distract the people and to seduce them for some radical ideologies.”

Separately, the EU is drawing up a new Digital Services Act, the flagship regulation for online platforms. One key battle is over how responsible tech companies should be for the content on their platform.

In its submission to the DSA, Google pushed back on how liable platforms should be for illegal content they have not been spotted. “The DSA should further clarify that services are not liable without actual knowledge,” the submission read.

While there have been calls for a tougher line to force platforms to be more proactive, Ms Jourova warned that being too tough would have an adverse effect.

“I don’t want to go too far in terms of liability because the platforms will use artificial intelligence to discover the cases in hate speech,” she said. “I am really mindful of (George) Orwell who said that totalitarian systems start when you start to control somebody’s vocabulary.”

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