Understanding Platforms, Online Intermediaries and the Sharing Economy

shutterstock_251529133Summer is over, but autumn is opening the way to long awaited public consultations and more action from the European Commission. Last May the European Commission adopted its strategy to complete the Digital Single Market strategy (DSM) with the aim of generating up to €250bn worth of additional growth in Europe. While the strategy clearly announced upcoming legislative proposals in some specific areas (eg reform of the current copyright regime and of telecom rules), other areas are first subject to comprehensive reviews and consultations, such as the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) consultation (see our previous blog post on the latter).

On 24 September the Commission launched its public consultation on the role of platforms and online intermediaries. Reflecting the “better regulation” policy and the new horizontal working methods of the Commission, this consultation also looks into data, the cloud and the collaborative economy.

Online platforms and intermediaries are central to the flourishing digital economy – and provoke strong opinions for and against. While their new business models can be highly disruptive to traditional services and businesses, they are often lapped up by consumers and also provide a significant source of economic growth. Regulators across Europe are struggling to keep up with pace of change and the new normal that these disruptive technologies are introducing. France is currently looking into new ways to regulate the digital economy and the UK’s House of Lords recently launched an inquiry into online platforms. At the same time the EU is inquiring into the ecommerce sector (see our snapshot here).

The consultation is divided into four parts: online platforms, liability of online intermediaries, data and cloud, and the collaborative economy. Stakeholders can input in any or all parts. But at just 30 pages, the consultation questionnaire is surprisingly short – compare for example the 200-plus pages of the AVMS consultation questionnaire.

The consultation takes a very broad approach and incorporates a majority of open questions allowing stakeholders to expand on their experiences, ideas and best practices. Topics include, inter alia, the use of information by online platforms, the ability to move from one platform to another, and access to data. It also includes much more targeted questions on how platforms handle data, transparency, market share, and policy approaches to notice-and-action procedures.

Compared to other ongoing consultations such as the telecom review (see our blog post here) and the AVMS consultation, this one is less about choosing between types of regulation and more about information gathering to understand the new ecosystem of platforms and online intermediaries. Indeed the Commission has reiterated that this consultation has absolutely no presumption of regulation and is first and foremost looking to clearly define and understand the role of online platforms. The Commission has especially urged stakeholders to contribute on the business-to-business experiences with platforms. This is the time for all stakeholders to contribute defining the complex ecosystem, input their expertise and tell their stories.

Charlotte Nørlund-Matthiessen is a consultant at FTI Consulting in Brussels.

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