Online platforms are an important part of a digital economy. The European Commission with it proposals wants to foster an environment in which online platform ecosystems thrive. This includes making sure that platforms treat their users fairly and take action to limit the spread of illegal content online.

European Commission's initiatives

The European Commission's policy aims at fostering a trusting, lawful and innovation-driven ecosystem around online platforms in the EU. To this end, the Commission's Communication on Online Platforms, published on 25 May 2016, identified certain key areas where further efforts are needed. The guiding policy principles pursued by the Commission are:

  1. A level playing field for comparable digital services;
  2. Ensuring that online platforms behave responsibly to protect core values;
  3. Fostering trust, transparency and ensuring fairness;
  4. Keeping markets open and non-discriminatory to foster a data-driven economy.

Mid-term review of the Digital Single Market strategy

In the mid-term review of the Digital Single Market strategy, committed to two principal follow-up actions that specifically concern online platforms:

  • 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;
  • 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.

Recommendation on measures to effectively tackle illegal content online

On 1 March 2018, the Commission issued a Recommendation on measures to effectively tackle illegal content online. This Recommendation builds on an earlier Communication on "tackling illegal content online, towards enhanced responsibility of online platforms", adopted on 28 September 2017, and translates the political commitment of the preceding Communication into a (non-binding) legal form.

EU Regulation on fairness and transparency in online platform trading

On 26 April 2018, the Commission proposed an EU Regulation on fairness and transparency in online platform trading together with the creation of an Observatory on the online platform economy. This initiative delivers on the commitment made in President Juncker's 2017 State of the Union address to safeguard a fair, predictable, sustainable and trusted business environment in the online economy. By putting in place a harmonised framework for minimum transparency and redress rights, it should protect companies that depend on online platforms for reaching consumers, while crucially safeguarding platforms' innovation potential.

Algorithmic transparency

Finally, the Commission is carrying out an in-depth analysis of algorithmic transparency and accountability. The pilot project, launched at the request of the European Parliament, aims to provide for an in-depth policy-relevant study of the role of algorithms in the digital economy and society, in particular how they shape, filter or personalize the information flows that they intermediate.

What are online platforms and why they are important

Online platforms cover a wide range of activities including online marketplaces, social media and creative content outlets, application distribution platforms, price comparison websites, platforms for the collaborative economy as well as online general search engines.

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.

Today, 1 million EU businesses are already selling goods and services via online platforms, and more than 50% of small and medium enterprises selling through online marketplaces sell cross-border. For 2017, the European Business-to-Consumer (B2C) e-commerce turnover was forecasted to reach around €602 billion, at a growth rate of nearly 14%.

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