Discussing the Digital Services and Markets Act and their impact on hospitality – Interview with MEP Alex Agius Saliba (Malta, S&D)

1. As the rapporteur for the legislative initiative report on the Digital Services Act, do you find that the European Commission’s proposals on the DSA and DMA offer a fair reflection of what was proposed by the European Parliament?

There is no doubt that both those proposals will be a game-changer for Europe and the world’s digital future. They are a significant step on the road to having a fairer digital single market, making it easier for smaller companies to scale up.  Online platforms have acquired unprecedented powers by becoming rule setters in their rights, creating a digital environment suited to their vested interests. Big digital companies have used their powers to surveillance users, decide what we can say and read, and see and buy online. Consumers have been exposed to online scams or faulty products with no legal protection online whatsoever. Those were some of the central problems and recommendations based on which the European Parliament has adopted its reports on the Digital Services Act.

The Commission has taken on board quite a few of the Parliament’s recommendations, such as introducing the principle of what is illegal offline should also be illegal online, know your business customer, extraterritoriality, transparency measures. They have also introduced provisions on online advertising and on the algorithms used to recommend content to users, and provisions that will affect online market places and consumer protection. The Commission has also introduced ex-ante rules to tackle the current imbalances with large online platforms like Google, Amazon, and Facebook. And if those big platforms break the rules, then they will be imposed fines and structural remedies. However, some of the proposed measures fall behind the European Parliament’s ambitious reports and there need to be further work to strengthen and clarify certain measures, such as on notice and actions, consumer protection, know your business customer, enforcement.

2. Many observers predict that the DSA and DMA will be heavily debated and take at least two years to be adopted. Which issues are in your opinion likely to be the most intensely debated?

The digital transformation has profoundly changed the functioning of the global economy and society. Unfortunately, the existing legal framework was lagging and needed an update in several areas. The Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act are the first comprehensive upgrade of the current legal framework introduced 20 years ago. Those two pieces of legislation must create a new legal framework regulating digital services, including online platforms and marketplaces, by creating a digital environment built on trust, choice, and a high level of protection for all consumers, citizens, and SMEs. The DSA and DMA should protect and safeguard citizens’ and consumers’ rights and guarantee a better and safer digital environment with real, tangible rules in a virtual world with no borders. The road ahead will be long and for sure very intense.

Therefore, it is fundamental that the European Parliaments’ reports on the DSA provide the framework and starting point for the future discussion. For example, the principle of “what is illegal offline is also illegal online,” together with consumer protection and user safety principles, should feature more prominently in the text. Companies established outside the EU, targeting the European markets, consumers, and citizens, should comply with DSA and DMA. Online harmful business models, manipulation, and discriminatory practices designed to maximise user attention dedicated to the platform based on illegal or sensationalist content need to be adequately addressed. To this end, certain specific measures, such as KYBC and stricter standards on harmful advertising practices, digital nudging, micro-targeting, recommended systems for advertisement, and preferential treatment, will be necessary to reduce the number of illegitimate traders and illegal activates online. Those are only a few of the points to be discussed in the coming months and years.

3. As an MEP from Malta, where tourism is key for the economy, do you think that the DSA and DMA can bring improvements for tourism and hospitality SMEs when dealing with large Internet companies?

The COVID-19 pandemic had a serious impact on the tourism and hospitality sector. The evolving digital developments and use of internet platforms for a wide set of activities, including tourism and hospitality have changed the ways in which consumers and companies interact. They have brought many benefits, but as well as some pitfalls. The collaborative economy platforms in the transport and tourism sectors are key in how those sectors will recover in the future. The tourism and transport sector have their own particularities that definitely needs to be looked in both the DSA and DMA.  In the tourism and transport sectors, the DSA should aim at ensuring a level playing field and a legal certainty for SMEs. There needs to be clarity and a clear framework formalising the cooperation between platforms and national, regional and local authorities aiming especially at sharing best practices and establishing a set of information obligations of short-term rental and mobility platforms vis-à-vis their service providers concerning relevant national, regional and local legislation.

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