EU assessment on the role of Online Platforms

26 January 2016 Author: Ajit Jaokar, EIF Advisor

The European Commission is launching a comprehensive assessment of the role of platforms as part of the Digital Single Market Strategy. In this context, ‘Online platforms’ include search engines, social media, knowledge and video sharing websites, app stores, etc.

These platforms play an increasingly central role in social and economic life. They impact the whole internet-enabled economy. The consultation gave digital businesses three months to shape the agenda on issues such as platform transparency, intermediary liability, free flow of data, cloud services and the collaborative economy.

Issues addressed

The European Commission is looking at issues such as

• How online platforms collect and make use of users' data
• The impact of the relative bargaining power of some actors when negotiating terms and conditions with other market players.
• Challenges to consumer protection due to the growing role of Platforms
• Whether platforms provide sufficient information and safeguards to consumers
• Digital content reuse where platforms act on their own behalf, or on behalf of their suppliers.
• The role of Online intermediaries in tackling illegal content online and the liability regime
• The transparency of Online Platforms
• Terms of use, use of ratings and reviews and the use of information by platforms
• The collection and use of personal data

Analysis

In the consultation, although the word "Online Platform" is broad, it is clarified through examples in specific contexts such as search engines, appstores, payment systems, social networks etc. The need to impose specific duties of care for certain categories of illegal content is controversial because it shifts responsibility and liability to the platform providers including providing different actions and notices for offenders depending on the type of content. The consultation also asks if we need more categories of intermediary. Some of these issues have been addressed before – for example in the European Cloud initiative. Finally, the consultation also addresses the Collaborative economy and whether the EU laws are fit to support the new phenomenon and whether existing policy is sufficient to let it develop and grow further.

The issues raised in the assessment are core to the way online platforms operate and we should expect a lively debate.

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