In an astonishingly cool, levelheaded interview that rocked this U.S.-based tech blogger’s world, EU Commissioner Thierry Breton told the Financial Times that the EU is considering a number of regulations that could finally break up big tech and hold platforms accountable for disinformation. Sounds exactly like the conversations they’re having in the U.S.! Except in modest statements to the press and not tweetstorms, human trafficking bills, tarmac press conferences, and executive orders.
Breton told the Financial Times that the EU would like to adopt regulation that sounds like a more legitimate, straightforward path to accomplish what Trump is attempting with the ByteDance/TikTok “deal” (or shakedown, depending on your take). Only in dire cases, Breton says, the EU might resort to forcing tech monopolies to break up or sell their European assets altogether. It seems to be framed less about blah blah “national security” — a legitimate concern, but not the one meaningfully addressed by the proposed TikTok deal — and more consistent with the EU’s existing incremental antitrust regulation.
It’s unclear how that’ll be implemented, but Breton said that proposed legislation will be ready by the end of the year. Gizmodo has reached out to Breton for more details and will update the post if we hear back.
Breton also says European regulators are thinking about the longterm preservation of free speech. (Wild!) He wants to deal with illegal content and disinformation without dismantling the liability shield for online intermediaries ensured by the 2000 E-Commerce Directive. Shielding platforms from liability is incredibly important, and EU regulators understand this; “The safe harbour of the liability exemption will stay,” Breton told the Financial Times. “That’s something that’s accepted by everyone.” As a European Parliament report noted earlier this year, they might reform it by further clarifying mechanisms to remove already-forbidden illegal content.
U.S. lawmakers’ war over moderation, on the other hand, involves firebombing liability exemptions. Legislators on both sides of the aisle want to dismantle Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which prevents online platforms from being treated as publishers and therefore free from liability over user-submitted content hosted on their platforms. (Among other reasons, Republicans would like to modify it in order to grant them more power to troll, and Democrats would like to hold Republicans accountable for lying.)
The Financial Times also mentions “tougher sanctions” on companies that make it impossible to migrate data to other platforms (Facebook). Breton also floated the idea of a “rating system” that would show companies’ track record on moderating disinformation and paying taxes, for which EU and member countries have pursued Amazon, Google, and Apple.
What do they think when they look at us? Sometimes I wonder.