Ecorys supports Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate on EU Digital Services Act

Who is responsible for the content of messages, photos or videos (content) that users of digital services post on the Internet: the user or the platform? And if it is the platform, should the same responsibility be expected of each provider of digital services? For example, should a small online platform for vacation accommodations meet the same requirements as a global social media platform? These are some of the questions central to the discussions on the renewal of the current EU Electronic Commerce Directive (2000/31/EC), which is being replaced by the new EU Digital Services Act (DSA).

The current regulations were drafted in 2000 based on the digital reality of the time. The number of users and types of providers of online services has developed rapidly since then. For example, there are platforms for e-commerce, social media, business and private communications, hotel accommodation and news media. Providers have also become larger and more complex: some providers focus on one of these services, but increasingly large parties are offering multiple of these services.

Current rules capture all of these services under the same legal definition, called “hosting. As a result, each online service provider has the same responsibility for the information posted by users on their websites. Performing checks on what is posted on a Web site is a costly task, especially for smaller organizations. At the same time, it is quite conceivable that there are differences in the possibility and necessity of checks between online service providers: users are more likely to post illegal or hateful content on an online political discussion forum than they are to do so on an online marketplace for second-hand clothes. New legislation should therefore better reflect current realities and better categorize the diversity of online providers.

Commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate, Ecorys has explored how online service providers currently covered by “hosting” could be redefined in the upcoming DSA. The researchers arrived at a recommendation for a new definition that distinguishes two types of online service providers. On the one hand, there are “traditional hosting services” for whom hosting users’ content is the core of their service, such as services for online storage of data and content (for example, Dropbox or Google Docs). On the other hand, there are providers who use hosting as a supporting activity to fulfill their core mission, such as social networks, e-commerce, news media and content streaming platforms. Using this categorization as a starting point, lawmakers can develop different responsibilities and duties for both groups of online providers in terms of content control.

Read the full report on the central government website.
For more information about the study report, please contact Walter Hulsker.

17 June 2021

2 minute read