This public consultation ran from 24 September 2015 until 6 January 2016 for 13 weeks, starting from the day when the questionnaire was available in all 23 EU languages.

The public consultation addressed the role of online platforms. Its objective was to gather evidence and views on the regulatory environment for platforms, liability of intermediaries, data and cloud and collaborative economy. It was launched on 24 September 2015 and closed on 6 January 2016.

The public consultation is part of a broader analysis of the role of platforms in the economy and society, included in the Digital Single Market Strategy for Europe adopted on 6th May 2015.

Who replied to the Public consultation?

More than 1036 replies were received via the procedures forseen in the consultation.

An additional 10 599 individual contributions were received via one single advocacy association, mostly addressing only some of the questions posed in the consultation. These responses are still being analyzed and are therefore not included in the preliminary readout below; they will nevertheless form part of the final, comprehensive assessment.

Not all respondents answered every question or section. More than 80 percent of the respondents replied to the sections on 'platforms' and 'online intermediaries & tackling illegal content', around 60 percent of the respondents replied to the section on 'data and cloud computing' and around one third replied to the section on 'collaborative economy'.

As to the geographical distribution of responses:

  • Replies came from 27 EU Member States.
  • About 10 percent of the replies came from outside of the EU, more than half of them from the United States.
  • The largest number of responses came from Germany (17 %), Belgium (13 %) and United Kingdom (11 %).

 

Preliminary trends observed in the Public consultation

Without prejudice to the results of the analysis of the public consultation, the following preliminary trends can be observed for the respondents to the individual topics:

Online Platforms

  • A large majority of citizens and of businesses recognised the benefits of online platforms, mainly because platforms make information more accessible and communication easier, create new business opportunities and increase choice of products and services.
  • A large majority have encountered, or are aware of problems faced by consumers or suppliers when dealing with online platforms.
  • Most business and citizen respondents stated that platforms should be more transparent notably about search results, clarity about the actual supplier and reviews mechanisms. They also consider that online platforms do not provide sufficient information on personal and non-personal data collected and on their terms and conditions. On the other hand, most online platforms think they provide sufficient information.
  • The majority of citizen and online platforms respondents considered that the above mentioned problems consumers or suppliers perceive could be best addressed by a combination of regulatory solutions, self-regulatory and market dynamics. Responses from businesses were evenly divided between purely regulatory measures and a combination of market dynamics, self-regulatory and regulatory measures.

Online intermediaries & tackling illegal content

  • Views are divided among those who consider the liability regime under the E-commerce Directive still fit for purpose and those who request clarification and guidance for its implementation, or a rebalancing of interests, including via the establishment of further categories of intermediary services, besides mere conduit/caching/hosting.
  • A majority of respondents consider that different categories of illegal content require different policy approaches as regards notice-and-action procedures. This is particularly the case for infringements of intellectual property rights, child abuse content and racist and xenophobic speech.
  • While notice providers (e.g. rights holders and enforcement authorities) are in favour of a "take down and stay down" principle for illegal content, intermediaries do not support this. The latter are also reluctant with regards to specific duties of care for certain categories of illegal content.
  • A large majority sees a need for more transparency of the content restriction policies and practices of online intermediaries

Data and cloud computing

  • A majority of respondents (either individual citizen or businesses) wants to make a clear distinction between personal and non-personal data. But detailed answers reveal that making such a distinction is not easy. A large majority of respondents think that the location of data affects their strategy in doing business both at individual and business level.
  • A large majority of individual citizens and majority of businesses and business associations agree with the default policy that would make data generated by publicly funded research available through open access.
  • A majority of respondents (either individual citizen or businesses) take the view that the existing legal framework (laws, guidelines or contractual practices) is not fit for purpose to address liability issues of Internet of Things and/or data driven services and connected tangible goods. From the responses, it appears that this affects the use of these services and goods, as well as users' trust in them.
  • A majority of individual citizens and SMEs think that cloud service providers are not sufficiently transparent about the security and protection of users' data in the services they provide while businesses and trade associations representing businesses are more divided. Many respondents (either individual citizens or businesses) think that cloud computing services interacting with each other (interoperability) and portability of data between different providers of cloud services can both have economic benefits. A majority of respondents drew attention to the fact that contractual terms and conditions for cloud services are non-negotiable for consumers and often for businesses as well.

Collaborative economy

  • A majority of service providers forming part of the collaborative economy are active in professional and other services sectors (such as software). Even service providers that do not use online platforms to a significant extent indicated that they are moving towards such collaborative platforms.
  • A large majority of both businesses and consumers agree that there are regulatory and other obstacles to the development of the collaborative economy in Europe. Uncertainty over the rights and obligations of users and providers are a key obstacle hampering the collaborative economy according to all types of respondents.
  • Collaborative economy service providers, platforms and public authorities favour more guidance and better information on the application of existing rules as a policy response. ‘Traditional' service providers that still mainly operate without extensive involvement of online platforms favour new rules for the collaborative economy.
  • A majority of consumer respondents take the view that collaborative economy platforms provide sufficient information on service providers, consumer rights, characteristics and modalities of the offer and statutory rights.

Next steps

The Commission is carrying out an in-depth analysis of the replies to the public consultation. The Commission has also launched 3 external studies supporting part of the analysis of the replies. A full report was published online.

The comprehensive assessment of the role of online platforms and online intermediaries will draw on this broad consultation.

Responses on data and cloud in digital ecosystems will notably be taken into consideration for the Commission's 2016 initiative to tackle restrictions to the free movement of data within the EU and when the Commission formulate its European Cloud initiative.

The Commission Communication on the European agenda for the collaborative economy will also take full account of responses to the collaborative economy section of the public consultation.

Contributions

The contributions to the public consultation were published here.