Online platforms have revolutionised access to information and have played a positive role in vitalising markets by better connecting buyers and sellers of services and goods. Yet, some concerns have been raised about:
- how online platforms collect and make use of users' data,
- the fairness in Business 2 Business (B2B) relations between online platforms and their suppliers,
- consumer protection, and
- the role of online platforms in tackling illegal content online.
The European Commission's Platforms Communication
As part of the Digital Single Market Strategy, the European Commission conducted a comprehensive assessment of the role of online platforms. This assessment was based on a broad public consultation, and a series of workshops and studies. The results of the assessment are further set out in a Staff Working Document on Online Platforms that also underpins the Platforms Communication which:
- formulates the Commission's policy approach to online platforms; and
- identifies areas where action or further assessment may be necessary.
The assessment of online platforms concludes that they play a key role in supporting innovation and growth in the Digital Single Market. Both, businesses and consumers in the EU stand to benefit from an environment that attracts, retains and grows new online platform innovators. Market fragmentation due to differing national or even local rules is identified as an obstacle to the sustainable development and scaling-up of online platforms (both for established market players as well as for new entrants).
The Commission's plan for a Digital Single Market and initiatives such as Digitising European Industry, the Single Market Strategy and the Capital Markets Union, as well as investment through Horizon 2020 and EFSI will help create better conditions for online platforms in the EU to thrive.
The Commission will further assess the necessity of targeted policy measures (regulatory, self- or co-regulatory) on the basis of clearly identified problems relating to a specific type or activity of online platforms, and in-depth evaluation of the sufficiency and adequacy of existing regulatory framework.
In formulating its policy response to online platforms, the Commission will be guided by the following four principles:
- A level playing field for comparable digital services;
- Ensuring that online platforms behave responsibly to protect core values;
- Fostering trust, transparency and ensuring fairness;
- Keeping markets open and non-discriminatory to foster a data-driven economy.
In order to understand what further actions the Commission can take to improve Europe's performance on the global platform stage, it aims to develop a comprehensive strategy, including looking at future technology evolutions in the context of the Next Generation Internet.
Online platforms is one of the three emerging challenges identified in the mid-term review. The actions to be implemented are:
- by the end of 2017 to prepare actions to address the issues of unfair contractual clauses and trading practices identified in platform-to-business relationships, including by exploring dispute resolution, fair practices criteria and transparency.
- to ensure better coordination of platform dialogues within the Digital Single Market focusing on the mechanisms and technical solutions for removal of illegal content, with a view to enhancing their effectiveness in full respect of fundamental rights.
For more details, read the Communication.
What are online platforms and why they are important
Online platforms cover a wide range of activities including online advertising platforms, marketplaces, search engines, social media and creative content outlets, application distribution platforms, communications services, payment systems, and platforms for the collaborative economy.
They share key characteristics including the use of information and communication technologies to facilitate interactions (including commercial transactions) between users, collection and use of data about these interactions, and network effects which make the use of the platforms with most users most valuable to other users.
Online platforms are strong drivers of innovation and play an important role in Europe's digital society and economy. They increase consumer choice, improve efficiency and competitiveness of industry and can enhance civil participation in society.