Has money and power corrupted Mark Zuckerberg
To understand the Internet, it is often helpful to take a look at the realm of pornography. It has always been a kind of laboratory for the mainstream network, and something remarkable happened on the Pornhub website on Tuesday. At the push of a button, the portal deleted the majority of the millions of porn videos that users had anonymously uploaded there. The trigger was public pressure after an outcry over videos allegedly showing abuse. An online platform was forced to make a rare admission: we have lost control, our own size has grown over our heads.
On the part of the significantly larger and - supposedly - cleaner online platforms, the realization that their business model harbors problems has not yet been realized. Facebook, Amazon and Google work on the same principle as Pornhub. Anyone can sell products there or publish, comment and rate texts. The corporations earn their money by distributing content from billions of people and companies and then placing advertisements for other companies around this content. In the end, the platform always wins. Uber became the largest taxi company without owning a car; Facebook becomes the largest information exchange without anyone writing a text in its offices.
Platforms are more than simple companies, but neither are they states. They are a new category for which rules must be invented. The Commission and Parliament of the EU are now trying to do this with a double strike: the proposals for a law on digital services and a law on digital markets.
After all, it's about the richest corporations in the world
The first is to give the platforms rules on how to deal with defamation, fake drugs and covert political campaigns that people spread on them. The companies should no longer talk their way out and citizens should be able to defend themselves better if they are blocked by overzealous platforms. In addition, the portals should explain to them why this content, that advertisement, is presented to them.
Because what could be a democratic idea - a forum or a bazaar - is corrupted by the logic of the attention economy. Platforms collect data about every click - in order to then advertise as precisely as possible. However, EU transparency rules can only be the first step in the fight against the surveillance system of the digital advertising industry.
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The second blow, the law on digital markets, recognizes that platforms of a certain size can crush competitors - for example by making their products less visible. Better market surveillance should identify unfair tricks early on. This can complement classic competition law, which fails because of the platform economy. The EU also provides clear definitions of when a platform has to submit to special rules because of its power. It is good that the EU wants to dispense with a general obligation to check each content individually. In this way, it defuses the censorship debate that raged around the copyright line.
The EU grabs IT companies with the two proposals. It is finally recognizing the challenges that large platforms pose for democracy. At least that's true if the good ideas don't end up in a lobby battle. After all, it's about the richest corporations in the world.
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