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The Brussels’ Corner – Hearings and Rulings

Věra Jourová – Commissioner-designate for Values and Transparency – is currently being auditioned by the European Parliament. So far, in relation to disinformation and political advertising, she has affirmed that “when it comes to the platforms, we want more transparency. We want citizens to know the source of information”.

Over the course of last week, several Commissioners-designate were auditioned by the European Parliament. Overshadowed by her previous ventures as an MEP, the Committees were less than impressed with Commissioner-designate Sylvie Goulard’s hearing. MEPs subsequently submitted additional questions. They now seek clearer answers regarding how she will guarantee fundamental rights while setting obligations for the tech giants through the prospective Digital Services Act. From closer inspection at the other questions, it seems that MEPs are also sceptical about the breadth of Goulard’s portfolio and her ability to coordinate the digital literacy files, potentially paving the way for Mariya Gabriel to solely take on these files.

Last week, there were two landmark Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) rulings relating to online privacy and illegal content online. Regarding the former, companies now are legally obliged among other things to obtain separate instances of affirmative user consent for each use of a cookie. In layman’s terms, this means that websites may only track your online activity if you consent. Wired has a great article that breaks this down. 

For illegal content online, the CJEU ruled against Facebook in a case that was brought to the CJEU by Austrian lawmaker Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek. Glawischnig-Piesczek sought judgement on whether Facebook is obligated to remove defamatory content globally. The CJEU ruled that EU law allowed local judges to order the platforms to remove illegal content, as well as delete material that conveyed a similar message under certain circumstances, i.e. “equivalent” content. Digital rights organisations have been critical of this ruling, especially since there is a sense of ambiguity relating to what constitutes “equivalent” content and its implications for guaranteeing freedom of speech. It now falls within the remit of the Austrian courts to decide on how to apply this judgement.

Behind Closed Doors

Recently, The Verge leaked two hours of audio that revealed Mark Zuckerberg speaking candidly about Facebook’s critics, competitors, and the U.S. government. Regarding the possible breaking up of tech companies, Zuckerberg can be heard saying “I don’t want to have a major lawsuit against our own government. … But look, …, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight”. This should be viewed as evidence of how events such as the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal and the Libra cryptocurrency U.S. congressional hearings have rocked the company to its core. Could the fightback against Facebook be getting stronger? The Conversation thinks so. 

In the news…

Good reads…


Events and Announcements

  • 16 October @ EU DisinfoLab webinar – ‘Digital Architectures, Social Engineering, and Networked Disinformation on Social Media’ with Michael Bossetta. Pre-register here
  • On the 19th September, we hosted a webinar in collaboration with Fakey – a news literacy game. In case you missed it, you can read our summary here.

Image originally found here.