As the EU’s Digital Services Act comes into force in 2024, it’s time that publishers recheck and adjust their content & advertising practices in order to ensure their compliance with the newest regulations. 

Back in 2016, the introduction of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) definitely had a tsunami effect on the digital advertising industry. And quite predictably, the story continued. 

Namely, since then the European Commission has already implemented two major directives, regulating the digital landscape in the region, i.e. Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA). And while the former particularly focuses on ensuring that online companies are keeping their business practices fair and transparent, leaving enough room for market contestability, the latter is aimed at enhancing the transparency of online content and advertising practices, including but not limited to those targeting the minors. 

Namely, from the publishers’ perspective, whereas the DMA mostly provides them with extra leverage and negotiating power in communication with large online platforms (like Facebook or Google, for instance), the DSA, which came into full effect in 2024 is putting greater pressure on them to make sure their existing content moderation and targeted advertising practices are in full compliance with the new, stricter rules. 

Uncracking the DSA

In brief, the DSA encompasses three major aspects in online publishers’ responsibilities, including content moderation, collection and use of consented End Users’ personal data (elements) and targeted advertising activities. 

Namely, while extra attention is put on the protection of minors’ data rights, the scope of coverage, in fact, goes beyond this demographic, making the importance of continuous policy review & tech adjustments of how a publisher’s team handles content publication and ad delivery at their digital properties bigger than ever before.

In plain words, what the DSA requires is the accessibility and comprehensiveness of content flagging tools, timely removal of illegal content (with relevant sanctions explained and implemented, accordingly), use of ethical UX/UI design with no shading ad practices, no ad profiling of minors, and certainly, the utmost transparency and clarity of the publisher’s Terms of Service and Data Privacy policies, equally understandable for all users. 

Moreover, in case with large players, the regulation also implies the annual review and reporting of the key numbers, regarding user complaints, flagged and removed content, and more. 

As for the penalties for not adhering to or violating the DSA principles, these range from 1% up to 6% of the global company turnover, in case with large online platforms and marketplaces. 

How to Ensure Compliance with the DSA

From a practical standpoint, what publishers can do to make sure their digital practices in the content and ad departments are compliant with the existing DSA regulations is conduct somewhat a checkup, then adopt necessary adjustments and changes, accordingly. 

Namely, this so-to-speak checkup may include the following: 

  • Clarification of a role that a publisher’s business represents in terms of the DSA (a large or a very large online platform, a hosting provider, a marketplace, etc.)
  • Review and improvement of content moderation practices (easy-to-use flagging /reporting tools, automatic removal of illegal content, notices on complaint receipts, transparent and effective sanctioning policies, etc.)
  • Review and improvement of the language used in the publicly displayed Terms of Services, making them more comprehensive and easy to grasp
  • Review (& update) of the publisher’s digital property UX/UI to ensure it follows the ethical design principles (the info popups are non-intrusive, yet easy to interact with; unsubscribing from memberships/newsletters/else is as fast, as subscribing to them; digital ads are non-intrusive and easily skippable/closable, etc.) 
  • Review and update of the publicly available information, regarding the publisher’s advertising practices, so that it includes details on their advertising partners, ad funding sources and primary user targeting criteria. More importantly, users should also be able to modify these targeting criteria, in case they wish to.
  • From large players: investment of operational resources into the preparation of annual reports, regarding the number of complaints, flagged/removed content, automated moderation tools, internal reporting data, easily accessible publicly and on demand, particularly by the designated third-party auditors.
  • From online platforms/marketplaces: implementation of the regular reporting (every 6 months) of the avg. number of active monthly users.

Of course, doing the checklist can’t guarantee the publisher’s full compliance with existing laws and regulations once and for all, unlike the continuous analysis and upgrade of their business processes. In this respect, what the DSA means for a digital publisher is the inevitable necessity to invest more financial resources into the empowerment of their content and ad-ops teams in order to avoid possible penalties.