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EU Regulators are considering whether Telegram should face stricter regulation

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In a report published today by Bloomberg, European Union regulators are considering launching an investigation into the messaging platform Telegram due to reports of it being used for illegal and harmful content, as well as how it defines the number of users it has under the Digital Services Act (DSA).

The European Commission has opened talks with Telegram primarily focused on the number of users who are based within the EU, and how to define the platform. The DSA has an additional, stricter set of requirements to follow for "very large online platforms," which are defined as having more than 45 million active users, and are as follows:

  • More user empowerment:
    • Users will get clear information on why they are recommended certain information and will have the right to opt-out from recommendation systems based on profiling;
    • Users will be able to report illegal content easily and platforms have to process such reports diligently;
    • Advertisements cannot be displayed based on the sensitive data of the user (such as ethnic origin, political opinions or sexual orientation);
    • Platforms need to label all ads and inform users on who is promoting them;
    • Platforms need to provide an easily understandable, plain-language summary of their terms and conditions, in the languages of the Member States where they operate.
  • Strong protection of minors:
    • Platforms will have to redesign their systems to ensure a high level of privacy, security, and safety of minors;
    • Targeted advertising based on profiling towards children is no longer permitted;
    • Special risk assessments including for negative effects on mental health will have to be provided to the Commission 4 months after designation and made public at the latest a year later;
    • Platforms will have to redesign their services, including their interfaces, recommender systems, terms and conditions, to mitigate these risks.
  • More diligent content moderation, less disinformation:
    • Platforms and search engines need to take measures to address risks linked to the dissemination of illegal content online and to negative effects on freedom of expression and information;
    • Platforms need to have clear terms and conditions and enforce them diligently and non-arbitrarily;
    • Platforms need to have a mechanism for users to flag illegal content and act upon notifications expeditiously;
    • Platforms need to analyse their specific risks, and put in place mitigation measures – for instance, to address the spread of disinformation and inauthentic use of their service.
  • More transparency and accountability:
    • Platforms need to ensure that their risk assessments and their compliance with all the DSA obligations are externally and independently audited;
    • They will have to give access to publicly available data to researchers; later on, a special mechanism for vetted researchers will be established;
    • They will need to publish repositories of all the ads served on their interface;
    • Platforms need to publish transparency reports on content moderation decisions and risk management.

Telegram currently claims that it only has 41 million active users within the EU, therefore, it is not within the scope of the additional requirements listed above. However, a spokesperson for the European Commission has said that it is looking into Telegram's calculation method and will monitor the market developments.

Meanwhile, others believe that Telegram should face these stricter requirements either way, such as the Estonian Prime Minister, Kaja Kallas, who said that "We find that Telegram is a big enough platform that similar obligations should apply to it as to Facebook, X and YouTube. It should qualify as a very large online platform."

So far, the European Commission has identified a list of 17 Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) and 2 Very Large Online Search Engines (VLOSEs) which includes the likes of Facebook, TikTok, X (formerly Twitter) and Google Search among others. The addition of Telegram would increase the number of VLOPs to 18.

Source: Bloomberg

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