Stricter control of Airbnb & Co. – cities support EU proposals

15 December 2020

Better protection of people’s digital rights and more power to control big tech companies – cities welcome the proposals for the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act, presented by the European Commission on Tuesday. At the same time, they see the need for further clarification on the role of cities and local governments.

“The new regulation will contribute to realize the principle we have been calling for: what is illegal offline must be illegal online,” said Laia Bonet, deputy mayor of Barcelona and chair of Eurocities’ Knowledge Society Forum, in a first reaction. The proposed legislation “will better protect the livelihoods of our cities and communities”, she added.

The new European laws aim to bring in new rules for tech giants like Amazon, Facebook or Airbnb. Cities have been asking for better control of those companies and access to their data, for better policy making. Ahead of further assessment of the proposals by city experts within the network Eurocities, the statement of Laia Bonet formulates an initial reaction.

Laia Bonet, deputy mayor of Barcelona and chair of Eurocities Knowledge Society Forum

“European local governments, gathered within Eurocities, welcome the new Digital Services Act as a step further in our quest to govern the impact of big tech in our cities.

Legislation unveiled today by Executive Vice-President Vestager and Commissioner Breton includes critical issues we had been pushing when confronted with the stark effects of large online platforms in urban housing, retail or mobility systems.

  • City administrations will be able to issue orders to act against illegal content – for instance, illegal short-term housing advertising,
  • City administrations will be able to set up data-sharing obligations on intermediary service providers, so as to monitor their compliance with EU, national and local laws.
  • The regulation opens the door for municipal governments and big online platforms providing intermediary services to set up specific code of conducts so as to ensure adequate cooperation arrangements.

The new regulation will contribute to realize the principle we have been calling for – what is illegal offline must be illegal online – and better protect the livelihoods of our cities and communities.

Furthermore, the Digital Services Act also includes progresses in protecting digital rights of citizens, as well as some to place data gathered by online platforms at the service of research and knowledge.

  • Transparency on the working recommender systems and advertisement targeting, including what data is used by whom to target which groups.
  • Transparency on content moderation; what has been removed from whom and why.
  • Safeguards for anonymous/non-personalized ways of using online platforms and their services.
  • Mechanisms for citizens to ‘exert control’ through notification, flagging and issue-raising.
  • Additionally, access to data for researchers to investigate and mitigate systemic risks for society of intermediary services providers.

However, we also acknowledge the challenges posed by a regulation that completely disregards the specificities of cities as the main location where users of intermediary service providers live – and, therefore, areas most impacted by their activity.

  • Impact on community livelihoods and social rights is not included as a system risk potentially posed by online platforms – whereas their activity clearly poses existential risk to affordable housing or local retail.
  • Online platforms will ultimately be held legally responsible in their countries of establishment, not the country they provide their services. This clearly harms our ability to make sure local laws are respected by large online service providers. We therefore call on national Digital Service Coordinators to coordinate closely when addressing matters referred to cities.”