A Dutch MEP wants the EU to take on Big Tech and force it to implement measures to make their internet platforms less addictive.
“Food, alcohol and tobacco are already subject to strict rules to protect our health. Addiction caused by the design of internet services cannot be exempt,” Kim van Sparrentak, who has drawn up the plan told the Parool.
Apps like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, X and TikTok are like “one-armed bandits” Van Sparrentak said, designed to keep users engaged for as long as possible.
Design functions aimed at endless scrolling, notifications and the automatic start of videos should be removed, she said. Users should also receive a warning when they have been on a platform for 30 consecutive minutes.
Despite initiatives to ban phones from the classroom and other attempts so cut back on use, youngsters still spend five to seven hours on their phones.
“No amount of self-discipline can protect people from the tricks of big tech companies. They have employed armies of psychologists to get us hooked,” Van Sparrentak, who spoke to numerous experts on the subject, said.
The endless scrolling is a conscious manipulation of the human need to “finish things”, Van Sparrentak said, and that, per definition is impossible. Another aspect of the addiction encouraging functions is the fear of missing out. “All these human emotions are being exploited by the makers of these apps.”
The plan still needs to be approved by the European parliament which will be discuss it in the coming weeks. If then taken up by the commission, it will still take at least a year before legislation can be put in place.
Big Tech lobby group Dot.Europe, which represents all major tech companies, has claimed there is no “substantial proof” that apps are addictive.
“We need more research to get a better understanding of the actual impact of online services on society and individuals,” it said in a reaction to the initiative. The organisation said it wants to be involved in future discussions about the subject.
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