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Europe starts tackling illegal content online. What you should know – National |

Google, Facebook, TikTok and other big tech companies operating in Europe are facing one of the most far-reaching efforts to clean up what people encounter online.

The first phase of the European Union's groundbreaking new digital rules will come into effect this week. The Digital Services Act is part of a series of tech-focused regulations drafted by the 27-nation group, which has long been a global leader in cracking down on tech giants.

The DSA, which the largest platforms must begin next Friday, aims to keep users safe online and stop the distribution of harmful content that is either illegal or violates a platform's terms of service, such as promoting genocide or anorexia. It also aims to protect Europeans' fundamental rights such as privacy and freedom of expression.

Some online platforms, which could face billions in fines if they don't comply, have already started making changes.

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Here's a look at what's happening this week:

Which platform is affected?

19 so far. This includes eight social media platforms: Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Snapchat.

There are five online marketplaces: Amazon,, China's Alibaba AliExpress, and Germany's Zalando.

Affected are the mobile app stores Google Play and Apple's App Store as well as Google Search and Microsoft's Bing search engine.

Google Maps and Wikipedia complete the list.

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What about other online businesses?

The EU's list is based on the figures provided by the platforms. Those with 45 million or more users – or 10 percent of the EU population – will face the highest level of regulation of the DSA.

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However, Brussels insiders have pointed out some notable omissions from the EU list, including eBay, Airbnb, Netflix and even PornHub. The list is not final and it is possible that more platforms will be added later.

Any company providing digital services to Europeans will eventually have to comply with the DSA. However, they will face fewer obligations than the biggest platforms and still have six months before they have to comply with the rules.

Citing uncertainty about the new rules, Meta Platforms has held back from launching its Twitter competitor Threads in the EU.

Platforms have started introducing new ways for European users to flag illegal online content and questionable products, which companies must remove quickly and objectively.

Amazon has opened a new channel to report suspected illegal products and provides more information about third-party providers.

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TikTok gave users an “additional way to report” content, including ads, they believe is illegal. Categories such as hate speech and harassment, suicide and self-harm, misinformation, or scams and scams help them pinpoint the problem.

A “new dedicated team of moderators and legal specialists” will then determine whether the reported content either violates the guidelines or is illegal and should be removed, according to the app of the Chinese parent company ByteDance.

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According to TikTok, the reason for a takedown will be explained to the person who posted the material and the person who reported it, and decisions can be appealed.

TikTok users can disable systems that recommend videos based on what a user has previously watched. Such systems are blamed for enticing social media users to make ever more extreme posts. With personalized recommendations turned off, TikTok feeds will instead suggest videos to European users based on what's popular in their region and around the world.

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The DSA prohibits the targeting of ads to vulnerable groups, including children.

Snapchat said advertisers in the EU and UK can't use youth personalization and optimization tools. Snapchat users 18+ would also get more transparency and control over the ads they see, including “details and insights” into why they use them. Certain ads are displayed.

TikTok made similar changes, preventing users ages 13 to 17 from seeing personalized ads “based on their activity on or off TikTok.”

Zalando, a German online fashion retailer, has filed a lawsuit against its inclusion in DSA's list of the largest online platforms, arguing that the company is being treated unfairly.

Nonetheless, Zalando implements systems to flag content on its website, although the risk of illegal material appearing in its carefully curated collection of clothing, bags and shoes is low.

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The company has supported the DSA, said Aurelie Caulier, Zalando's head of public affairs for the EU.

“It will bring a lot of positive changes for consumers,” she said. But “in general, there is no systemic risk at Zalando (that other platforms pose). So we don't think we fit into that category.”

Amazon has filed a similar case with a top EU court.

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What happens when companies don't follow the rules?

Officials have warned tech companies that breaches could face fines of up to 6 percent of their global sales – which could run into billions – or even a ban from the EU. However, don't expect immediate penalties for individual violations, such as failing to remove a specific video that promotes hate speech.

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Instead, the DSA is more about whether tech companies have the right processes in place to mitigate the damage their algorithm-based recommender systems can do to users. Essentially, they need to let the European Commission, the EU's executive branch and top digital enforcement authority, look under the hood to see how their algorithms work.

EU officials “are concerned about user behavior, such as bullying and the spread of illegal content, but they are also concerned about the way platforms work and how they contribute to the negative impact,” said Sally Broughton Micova, an extraordinary Professor at the University of East Anglia.

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This includes investigating how the platforms work with digital advertising systems that could be used to profile users for harmful material such as disinformation, or how their live streaming systems work, which could be used to instantly disseminate terrorist content, Broughton Micova said, who is also an academic and is co-director at the Center on Regulation in Europe, a Brussels-based think tank.

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Under the rules, the largest platforms must identify and assess potential systemic risks and see if they are doing enough to mitigate them. These risk assessments are due by the end of August and will then be independently reviewed.

The audits are expected to be the main tool for checking compliance – although the EU's plan has been criticized for a lack of details that leave it unclear how the process will work.

What about the rest of the world?

Europe's changes could have global implications. Wikipedia is adjusting some policies and changing its Terms of Service to provide more information about “problematic users and content”. Those changes won't be limited to Europe, said the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, which runs the community-run encyclopedia.

“The rules and processes governing Wikimedia projects worldwide, including any changes in response to the DSA, are as universal as can be. This means that changes to our Terms of Service and Office Actions Policy will be implemented globally,” the statement said.

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It will be difficult for tech companies to restrict DSA-related changes, Broughton Micova said, adding that digital ad networks are not limited to Europe and that social media influencers could have a global reach.

The regulations deal “with global multichannel networks. So there will be a domino effect once remedial action is taken,” she said.

AP video journalist Sylvain Plazy contributed from Brussels.

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