In a time of global uncertainties, travel bans, school closures, and social distance recommendations that keep us from loved ones, many people turned to digital tools to retain a sense of normality. We have seen video conference weddings, virtual office happy hours, and digital graduation ceremonies. In every facet of our lives, individuals, companies and even whole sectors, have taken on the imperative task of digital transformation. The ‘new normal’ of living our lives online has not only allowed people to stay afloat, it has shown that the digitally literate can flourish when equipped with the tools to do so.
President von der Leyen stressed in her State of the Union address, “we must make this Europe’s digital decade.”  As a leader pushing for a new technological era, von der Leyen has repeatedly recognized that in order for Europe to be a pioneer in the digital transformation, the region must have clearly defined goals for 2030, and beyond. At AT&T, we agree with President von der Leyen and believe that the region’s digital goals must encompass a clear set of policies that promote innovation, attract investment, and strengthen the digital ecosystem by ensuring a level playing field.
With these lofty ambitions set out, the EU must seize any opportunity to propel itself into the new digital age. The development of the Digital Services Act is the first and most critical chance to do this. We must ensure that the following main principles underpin the regulation:
- What is considered unacceptable or unlawful offline should be equally unacceptable or unlawful online.
- All users should be empowered to manage online risks and stay safe.
- Tech companies operating internet platforms that publish or make available their own content, product and services or from third parties, have responsibility to their users and for the content, products, services they store, host, commercialize.
- Copyright, trademark, patent protection and anti-piracy efforts are critical and should be protected.
Principally, AT&T believes that online platforms should be more accountable for, and more transparent about, the decisions they make that fundamentally shape how we communicate, learn, shop, and are informed and entertained. For years, such transparency about critical choices has been required in the framework of broadband networks owned by ISPs. Now, dominant online platforms owe the same to the public.
We further argue that the “Safe Harbor provision” should be modified to reflect the reality and evolution of business models. There is no reason that online platforms, being as active as they are today, should enjoy legal immunities unavailable to similarly-situated traditional companies. The decisions these companies make daily – which search results to rank first, which products to promote, which news stories to feature, and the terms in which they deal with third parties – influence our social, work and political life.
I am glad to see some of these ideas reflected in European Parliament’s debate and initiative reports on the Digital Service Act. We need clear, well targeted and thoughtful legislation to make this Europe’s digital decade!
“State of the Union Address by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary” European Commission. September 2020. Link: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_20_1655