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CDT Europe Calls for Human Rights-Based Approach to Risk Assessments and Audits of Very Large Online Platforms and Search Engines

(BRUSSELS, April 25 2023) – With the European Commission officially designating 19 entities as Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) and Very Large Online Search Engines (VLOSEs) today, these entities must now prepare to comply with the full set of extensive mandatory due diligence obligations which apply to them under the EU Digital Services Act (DSA). Most notable of these mandatory obligations are the risk assessments and independent audits that VLOPs/VLOSEs will be subject to annually.

Asha Allen, Centre for Democracy & Technology (CDT) Advocacy Director for Europe, Online Expression & Civic Space, says:

“The hard-won human rights protections that were hailed as this new law was agreed will prevail or fail based on how these newly introduced risk assessments and audits are done in practice. It will be of paramount importance that the European Commission not allow these processes to be subject to corporate capture, but instead adopt a human rights based approach that captures the multifaceted way it impacts all users, in particular those already at increased risk of online harms.

It is vital that the coming months be used as an opportunity to lay essential groundwork. This means that the Commission and online platforms must prioritise consistent, in-depth stakeholder consultation with civil society. If these provisions are to be effective, they must be expertly informed and grounded in human-rights that go beyond a tick-the-box exercise, and facilitate a safer, more inclusive and rights-protective digital ecosystem.”

The risk assessment process is expected to commence in the coming months and will be complemented by audits that are to be conducted by yet-to-be-identified entities. The outcomes of these processes will prove crucial in achieving the DSA’s objective of providing more meaningful transparency and online platform accountability.