The EU law to curb tech giants will transform Ireland’s online law over the last 20 years

Online giants like Google, Twitter and Facebook are facing increased regulation after European Union lawmakers passed tougher rules to monitor the internet.

Irish lawmakers have said the EU digital services law is “the most comprehensive and significant” such law in more than 20 years and will be part of a series of bills that will change the “online landscape” forever.

“The last major European legislation in this area was in 2000, so you’ll appreciate how much technology and the internet have evolved since then. Under the new rules, whatever consumer protections we have in the real world apply to the online world,” said Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne Sunday independent.

“The balance of power in the relationship between the state and technology companies has changed irrevocably. Where technology companies previously self-regulated, stricter requirements are now imposed by the state on accountability, transparency, online safety and consumer protection. What is happening is transformative. By this time next year, the online landscape will be very different.”

The agreement between EU member states, the European Commission and the European Parliament came after more than 16 hours of negotiations, which ended early in the morning yesterday.

That means big tech companies have to monitor illegal content, provide transparency around algorithms, and pay regulators a fee to monitor compliance. It will also prevent companies like Google, Facebook and Instagram from targeting minors with advertisements and coercing people to click on content using manipulative techniques.

“The level of protection that we expect when we go to a store or buy something over the counter is now going to be in the digital world,” Byrne said.

“When you see an ad on your screen, you now know who is paying for it and why you were targeted.

“It also means companies need to be open about their algorithms, which affect everything from the TV programs we watch to government decisions and people applying to job jobs.”

“They are used in all areas of our lives. The upside is they save time, the downside is the potential for bias and certain groups could be discriminated against,” Mr Byrne said.

“For example, more and more companies are using algorithms for job applications. They may receive 1,000 applications and use an automated process to reduce the number rather than asking someone to go through each resume.

“Likewise, governments are increasingly using algorithms to make decisions, such as when people apply for a grant or welfare. A machine asks if you tick certain boxes and that decides if you qualify or not.

“Technology is fantastic and we see that it makes our lives better and easier in many ways, but we also need to make sure it’s transparent and that the companies adopting it are held accountable.

“What is good practice is now required by law.”

Professor Mary Aiken, an expert in forensic cyber psychology who works with Interpol and Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre, among others, said the EU rules were “a big step forward”.

“It will ensure that what is illegal offline is also seen and treated as illegal online,” she said. “In the UK, US and parts of Europe we are seeing the growth of an entire sector, the SafetyTech sector, dedicated to providing technological solutions to technologically-enabled harmful and illegal behaviour.”

However, she also warned: “Unless our politicians take a methodical and scientific approach to online governance and invest in building Ireland’s online safety technology infrastructure, the current Irish Online Safety Act will fail spectacularly.”

The Irish bill is due to be debated in the Seanad in the coming days and will result in the establishment of a media commission which will be responsible for implementing the new EU digital services law here and enforcing its requirements. The EU law to curb tech giants will transform Ireland’s online law over the last 20 years

Fry Electronics Team

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