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Facebook whistleblower outlines three areas where MEPs should shape the Digital Services Act

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MEPs met with whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen (8 November). The hearing came at an important time as the revelations will have an impact on the Digital Services Act, which will soon be adopted by the parliament. 

Haugen was excoriating on what she described as “Toxic Facebook” which put its own profits ahead of safety and amplified division. She welcomed the EU’s proposed Digital Services Act, but called for caution.

On transparency she said: “Almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside of Facebook. The company's leadership keeps vital information from the public, the US government, its shareholders and governments around the world. The documents I have provided prove that Facebook has repeatedly misled us about what its own research reveals about the safety of children. Its role in spreading hateful and polarizing messages, and so much more.” Haugen called for full access to data for research and more experts to study the data. She said that there should not be a broad exemption for trade secrets, otherwise Facebook will classify everything as a trade secret. 

Secondly, Haugen described engagement based ranking systems as dangerous. She quotes Marc Zuckerberg in 2018 saying that it was dangerous because people are more drawn to extreme content than more mainline content, therefore giving a larger fraction of the public platform to the most extreme. 

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Thirdly, Haugen warned of the dangers of loopholes and exemptions. In particular, she warned against exemptions for news media content, saying that ‘neutral’ rules means that nothing is singled out and nothing is exempted: “Let me be very clear. Every modern disinformation campaign will exploit news media channels on digital platforms by gaming the system. If the DSA makes it illegal for platforms to address these issues, we risk undermining the effectiveness of the law.” 

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Joint CEO statement: 'Europe needs to translate its digital ambitions into concrete actions'

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We, the CEOs of Europe’s leading telecommunication companies, call on EU policymakers to closely align Europe’s digital ambitions with a supportive policy and regulatory ecosystem. Our sector is investing heavily to bring new digital networks to all Europeans: total telecoms investment has now reached €52.5bn/yeari in Europe, the highest in six years. We are innovating on top of our 5G, fibre and cable networks, with collaborative initiatives on Open-RAN, edge cloud and data-enabled services. We are taking decisive action on climate change by anticipating our own climate neutrality goalsii, but also by facilitating extensive ICT uptake: this can enable up to 15% reduction in CO2 emissions across the whole economy.

European political leaders have also stepped up their efforts for digital leadership. Having approved the 20% allocation to the digital transition in the Recovery Plan for Europeiv and supported this with ambitious EU Digital Decade targetsv , Europe is at a turning point. We now need concrete and immediate action to seize the opportunity and fuel further technological innovation and inclusivity. Europe’s global role cannot be limited to buying and regulating the technology built by others: we must create the conditions for homegrown digital infrastructure and services to thrive and set global standards that others can aspire to.

In order to achieve these shared ambitions, we call for action in three areas:
• A clear alignment between European digital leadership ambitions and competition policy. The positive signals on industry collaboration – ranging from network sharing to IPCEI projectsvi and other forms of cooperation – are important steps forward and should be reinforced. Building scale in the telecoms sector remains a priority, inside markets as well as across markets: this is in the strategic interest of the EU and its citizens.
• Strong political buy in to ensure that regulatory action fosters investment in gigabit networks, which will require €300bn additional investmentvii . Regulation must fully reflect market realities, now and in the future. Namely, that telecom operators compete face-to-face with services by big tech, in the context of vibrant markets. High spectrum prices and auctions that artificially force unsustainable entrants into the market must end. Recent ideas to alter a European Commission proposal by extending retail price regulation to international calls – a competitive market where many free alternatives exist – are at odds with the Digital Decade targets: we estimate that they would forcibly remove over €2bn revenues from the sector in a 4 year period, which is equivalent to 2.5% of the sector’s yearly investment capacity for mobile infrastructureviii . In addition, the ongoing policy work on reducing the cost of roll-out is of essence and should proceed speedily.
• A renewed effort to rebalance the relationship between global technology giants and the European digital ecosystem. Horizontal measures such as the Digital Markets Act play a crucial role and, for this reason, we firmly support them. In addition, we must also consider important sector-specific issues. Large and increasing part of network traffic is generated and monetized by big tech platforms, but it requires continuous, intensive network investment and planning by the telecommunications sector.

This model – which enables EU citizens to enjoy the fruits of the digital transformation – can only be sustainable if such big tech platforms also contribute fairly to network costs. Furthermore, we must ensure that new industrial strategies allow European players – including telcos – to compete successfully in global data spaces, so we can develop a European data economy that is built on true European values. Europe needs a strong telecom sector and ecosystems. We stand ready to help institutions to further shape a policy environment that accelerates digitalization to the benefit of all European citizens and businesses.

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Signatories: Thomas Arnoldner, CEO, Telekom Austria Nikolai Andreev, CEO, Vivacom Guillaume Boutin, CEO, Proximus Group Sigve Brekke, President and CEO, Telenor Group Joost Farwerck, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Management, KPN Alexandre Fonseca, Executive President, Altice Portugal Timotheus Höttges, CEO, Deutsche Telekom Philip Jansen, CEO, BT Group Allison Kirkby, President and CEO, Telia Company José María Alvarez Pallete, Chairman and CEO, Telefónica Nick Read, CEO, Vodafone Group Stéphane Richard, Chairman and CEO, Orange Group Urs Schaeppi, CEO, Swisscom

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First calls for proposals under the Digital Europe Programme are launched in digital tech and European Digital Innovation Hubs

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The Commission has announced the first set of calls for proposals under the Digital Europe Programme. This follows the adoption of the work programmes allocating nearly €2 billion for investments aimed to advance on the digital transition. The calls are open to businesses, organizations, and public administrations from the EU member states, as well as entities from other countries associated to the Digital Europe Programme.

These grants will be targeted towards an investment of over €415 million in cloud to edge infrastructure, data spaces, artificial intelligence (AI), quantum communication infrastructure, in advancing people's digital skills, and projects that promote a safer internet, fight child sexual abuse, and disinformation, until the end of 2022. The first call for proposals is also opening for the set-up and deployment of the European Digital Innovation Hub (EDIH) network. These hubs will support private companies, including SMEs and start-ups, and the public sector in their digital transformation.  More information as regards applying for grants under this set of calls for proposals is available online. Further calls will be published in early 2022.

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Digital Economy and Society Index 2021: Overall progress in digital transition but need for new EU-wide efforts

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The Commission has published the results of the 2021 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), which tracks the progress made in EU member states in digital competitiveness in the areas of human capital, broadband connectivity, the integration of digital technologies by businesses and digital public services. The DESI 2021 reports present data from the first or second quarter of 2020 for the most part, providing some insight into key developments in the digital economy and society during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the effect of COVID-19 on the use and supply of digital services and the results of policies implemented since then are not captured in the data, and will be more visible in the 2022 edition.

A Europe Fit for the Digital Age Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said: “The message of this year's Index is positive, all EU countries made some progress in getting more digital and more competitive, but more can be done. So we are working with member states to ensure that key investments are made via the Recovery and Resilience Facility to bring the best of digital opportunities to all citizens and businesses.”

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton added: “Setting ourselves 2030 targets was an important step, but now we need to deliver. Today's DESI shows progress, but also where we need to get better collectively to ensure that European citizens and businesses, in particular SMEs, can access and use cutting-edge technologies that will make their lives better, safer and greener.”

All EU member states have made progress in the area of digitalization, but the overall picture across member states is mixed, and despite some convergence, the gap between the EU's frontrunners and those with the lowest DESI scores remains large. Despite these improvements, all member states will need to make concerted efforts to meet the 2030 targets as set out in Europe's Digital Decade. You will find more information in a dedicated press release and Q&A.

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