DOT Europe: "Public affairs remain a people business"

2nd Apr, 2024

DOT Europe began its journey in 2000 as European Digital Media Association (EDiMA), launched by online music distribution companies that wanted to expand their services across the EU. This meant that the main political issues were related to licences, which over the years have been centred on the responsibility of intermediaries, and later expanded to include European representation of Internet companies. In 2020, the association was relaunched as DOT (Digital Online Tech) Europe, to better reflect the evolution of the digital sector and demonstrate the growing variety of its members, as well as the rapid expansion of policy areas affecting its sector.

DOT Europe’s mission is to participate in key EU policy debates affecting the digital sector, developing ideas and supporting policy initiatives aimed at creating an innovative, open and secure Internet for European citizens and businesses. HQ spoke to Director General, Siada El Ramly, about today’s major debates and the valuable contribution of its members.

1) How can virtual event platforms and tech providers maintain the same relevance and influence at a time when in-person meetings are on the rise again?

I think that despite the return of face-to-face meetings, there will continue to be a demand for virtual meetings and events. For example, online meetings can be held on a more limited budget, opening up a range of options for organisations. It is possible that the pandemic period has resulted in a disproportionate increase in online meetings and tools, and that the balance may now shift a little towards face-to-face meetings. However, I believe that digital is here to stay and will continue to play an important role in the mix.

2) At a time when we are witnessing a rapid digital transition and new forms of news consumption, how can the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) protect the public environment from propaganda, disinformation and political interference?

The goals of the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) are laudable and DOT Europe fully supports them. However, the devil is in the detail. Certain provisions of the EMFA create contradictory obligations for online platforms. Recent developments on the file introduce a de facto media exemption, where harmful or misleading content, such as disinformation, has to remain available on a very large online platform service solely because the content comes from a certain type of user. Needless to say, this is in contradiction with the obligation to mitigate risks under the Digital Services Act, which is the framework legislation dealing with illegal and harmful content online. It similarly contradicts the Code of Practice on disinformation that DOT Europe and many of its members have committed to and been a vested signatory of since 2018. We have high hopes that the EMFA will be fine-tuned to deliver on its ambitions without undermining the regime that has already been put in place in the form of the Digital Services Act after thorough discussions and a tortuous legislative process.

"One part of cybersecurity that is often overlooked is the human element.

3) How can associations make the most of the digital services and resources that the internet now makes available for their daily work?

The pandemic had a catalysing effect on the use of technology, especially in the field of videoconferencing. These technologies were already available before the pandemic, but their use exploded and they entered the mainstream. These connectivity tools have benefited associations, for example, by making it easier for members to get together at short notice to discuss urgent issues. They have also been very helpful in cases where not all members are physically in the same space, which makes participation and debate much more difficult. That said, public affairs work remains a people business and tech cannot fully replace a physical meeting. In many cases, being physically in the same room has advantages and allows for livelier participation and an honest exchange of views. I argue that it’s a question of balance and that the best way to do this is to mix the online and the physical.

4) How to find a break-even point between the constant development of AI and its associated risks, such as job displacement, ethical dilemmas and privacy concerns?

There are examples of policies and regulations that take a future-proof approach, the most recent being the Digital Services Act. It is possible to design a regulatory framework that establishes rules and principles that do not have to be revised every time a technological development occurs. The AI Act has taken a step in this direction by a new requirements-based approach in what are considered the riskiest uses of an AI system. This approach could remain relevant in light of significant technological breakthroughs if applied correctly. We have seen some attempts to undermine it in the ongoing legislative discussions, and we are working to keep the original spirit of the proposal as intact as possible. This would be an example of a balanced approach, where innovation is given enough space to develop, while recognising that certain risks need to be mitigated.

"It is possible that after the pandemic, the balance may now shift a little towards face-to-face meetings.

5) Given that data will be key to the trajectory of businesses and consumers in a unified digital economy, how can associations innovate their membership and revenue streams through data?

The EU has drawn up a global framework for the management of personal and nonpersonal data in the European bloc. The ambition of the current Commission was to avoid missing out on the expected revolution and the added value that can be brought by utilising non-personal data (e.g. industrial data). There are various estimates of the additional value this data can add to the EU’s GDP in the future, but even the most conservative estimates reveal a huge amount to take away. It’s really hard to predict how individual organisations can benefit and innovate using this data, but I imagine the first step requires data analysis tools. Raw data alone, without any means of analysing it, won’t bring much benefit. The second step would be to understand what types of data an organisation holds and what it would like to use it for. For example, what kind of knowledge it can gain and in what area of its work.

6) How can we safeguard consumer communications and build the basis for a cyber-resilient data economy around the online society?

Cybersecurity has taken on an increasingly prominent role, both in EU policy-making and in everyday life. One part of cybersecurity that is often overlooked is the human element. Greater consumer awareness of the methods used to expose people to cyber-attacks (e.g. phishing, online scams, etc.) would be an important first step. There is little point in having the most sophisticated protection if there is a human being who opens the door to a potential cyber-attack. The EU has taken many steps to increase cybersecurity and we have seen a proliferation of legislation in the last five years (Cybersecurity Act, NIS2, Cyber Resilience Act), while cybersecurity elements are being added to existing pieces of legislation on product safety. This can have positive results because it forces better cybersecurity practices, but it must be balanced and avoid excessive burdens on organisations.

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