How the EU’s Digital Service Act is changing the apps you use

Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are among the platforms affected by the new EU tech rules (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)
Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are among the platforms affected by the new EU tech rules (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)

Some of the world’s biggest tech companies are introducing sweeping changes to their apps as a result of increased legal scrutiny in the EU.

Starting today, the likes of Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Amazon will face strict rules that require them to prevent the spread of harmful content, protect children, and limit some targeting of users.

The landmark legislation is known as the Digital Services Act (DSA). To comply with regulations, and avoid hefty fines, widely used social media services are giving users more control over the content they are shown. They are also stopping personalised advertising for younger users.

While the biggest changes will only be activated in the EU, Brits will still be impacted by some of the updates.

Here’s what you need to know about the DSA, and what it means for you.

What is the Digital Services Act?

At its heart, the DSA is a set of rules designed to protect consumers from false information and dodgy ads, while ensuring online platforms are accountable to users and regulators.

Not only will violation of the act result in fines of up to six per cent of global turnover, but the EC says it will also make it easier for “damaged consumers” to take collective legal action against rule breakers.

Although it became law in November 2022, the DSA is initially limited to 19 of the largest internet platforms including Facebook and Instagram owner Meta, TikTok, Apple, Google and Snapchat.

The legislation will be expanded to smaller firms by mid-February 2024, with local regulators overseeing its application in each EU country.

Europe is a pioneer in tech regulation, so global lawmakers will be watching closely to see if the new measures are successful. The DSA is being enforced as the UK is hammering out an Online Safety Bill of its own with similar provisions.

How have tech companies responded?

Many tech firms have made changes to their services to meet the new rules, the biggest of which will affect users in the EU.

In early August, TikTok said it would allow users in Europe to opt out of its algorithmic feed that shows clips based on each user’s interests. Turning off the feature will cause the app to show popular local and global videos in their place.

Facebook and Instagram have taken similar steps by giving users the option to view Stories and Reels only from people they follow, displayed in chronological order.

On August 23, Snapchat said that it too would allow people in Europe to opt out of certain types of personalised content, including public stories from the Discover section and Spotlight clips.

Despite disputing its inclusion on the list of large tech firms, Amazon is complying with the law and "created a new channel for submitting notices against suspected illegal products and content".

What does it mean for Brits?

Unfortunately, Brits can’t disable the sticky algorithms on their apps, but other changes are coming to the UK and other parts of the world as well.

Firstly, Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram have all agreed to stop showing personalised advertising to users aged 13-17.

Elsewhere, Google has agreed to provide more access to its data, which could help researchers figure out how it influences the public’s online activity, from shopping to search to app downloads.

In addition, Wikipedia said it would publish more information on requests it received to alter or remove content.

Brits can also expect to hear about new controls and increased data transparency from other companies in the coming weeks and months.