Telegram in the EU's sights: the app may have to comply with more stringent obligations

The European Commission has launched an investigation to verify whether the messaging platform Telegramone of the main alternatives to WhatsApp, should be considered one VLOP (Very Large Online Platformin Italian “large online platform”), that is, a platform that exceeds 45 million monthly users and therefore is required to respect the DSA (Digital Services Act). The news comes from some sources in contact with the news agency Bloomergaccording to which the request would come from the Prime Minister of Estonia, who highlighted how requests to eliminate fake news on Telegram often remain unanswered. This would require Telegram to be subject to the same rules that other platforms in the EU comply with (such as Whatsapp, TikTok, illegal content and disinformation. Among the reasons why theEuropean Union would be paying attention to the platform there is the possible exceeding of the threshold of 45 million users per month.

Telegram, the DSA and the issue of monthly users

The fundamental question concerns the number of monthly users that Telegram has scored in the last 6 months. As indicated on the European Commission website, platforms are obliged to publish information on the number of active users and update these figures at least every 6 months.

How many active users does Telegram have in the EU? The platform itself answers this question on its official blog, saying that «in August 2023, Telegram had an estimated average of 39.5 million EU users in the previous 6 months. This value is lower than the threshold of 45 million users required for classification as a “large online platform”. Not only. When addressing the discussion on the DSA Telegram in his blog he stated:

The number of active users relevant for the calculation of this threshold is assumed to be even lower, since only some of Telegram's functions can qualify as “online platforms” under the Digital Services Act.

However there is a “but”. The 39.5 million users concern the six months preceding August 2023. Since we are in May 2024, the European Commission will therefore have to verify whether the number of unique users has recently increased, possibly exceeding the threshold of 45 million unique users .

What would happen to Telegram if it were classified as a VLOP

In the event that Telegram was classified as a VLOP it would have 4 months to comply with the DSA. The designation as VLOP in fact triggers specific rules that large platforms must comply with to a greater extent than platforms with a smaller catchment area. Specifically, as stated on the European Commission website, VLOP platforms are required to «establish a contact point for authorities and users, report criminal crimes, have user-friendly terms and conditions, be transparent regarding advertising , recommendation systems or content moderation decisions.” Furthermore, VLOPs must comply with ad hoc rules, which aim to contain the potential negative impact what large platforms can have on society through the dissemination of illegal contentincluding those they generate disinformation.

Specifically, the DSA imposes the following obligations for VLOPs:

  • Protection of minorswith a ban on profiling for marketing purposes and periodic assessments of specific risks which entail an appropriate redesign of services and interfaces.
  • User protection with a ban on advertisements targeted on the basis of sensitive data, obligation to intervene on reports of illegal content and to label each advertisement.
  • Transparencywith the obligation to make the data useful for the risk assessment verification and the published insertions publicly available.
  • Content moderation to hinder the spread of illegal content including fake news and disinformation content through terms and conditions, the possibility of reporting content and specific risk analysis.