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Data standards ‘should be led by market, not European Commission’, says UK government

In its response to the EU consultation on a single digital market, UK government highlights the need for healthy competition and transparency

The UK government has published a series of responses to EU consultations on a single digital market, covering topics such as digital platforms, data standards and geo-blocking.

Last May, the European Commission (EC) outlined 16 initiatives to move forward on plans for a single digital market in the European Union (EU).

The initiatives were split into three categories: better access for consumers and businesses to find European digital goods and services; creating a level playing field for digital networks and innovation; and encouraging the growth of the potential digital economy.

The UK government has issued a series of policy papers, the first outlining its response to the consultation on a regulatory environment for platforms, data and cloud computing.

While the UK government says it wants to ensure that platforms “continue to innovate and offer services to consumers and [meet] businesses demand”, it rejects any form of regulation that could undermine advantages such as businesses benefiting from a reduction of geographic barriers, or consumers benefiting from increased choice and quality of services.

The government says the EU “should avoid using any attempt to define platforms as the basis for any regulatory action” because there is no single definition for platforms.

“We should not create laws specifically for platforms, but platforms should not be above the law,” the response said. “To attempt to define a set of characteristics as varied as those listed in the Commission’s consultation is an impossible task.

“The list of services covered will continue to grow as the technology proliferates. We do not see many policy questions that are exclusively limited to platforms. Where questions do arise, they are relevant to a subset of platforms. Therefore the EU should avoid using any attempt to define platforms as the basis for any regulatory action.”

The UK government called on the EC to improve its “information-gathering powers and streamline the competition enforcement system” to ensure fair competition and said it should “seek to clarify how existing EU legislation applies to the collaborative economy” to ensure those rules are “fit for a digital age”.

The response also highlighted the fact that the UK industry had voiced concerns that platforms were seen as “problematic” rather than innovative business models that bring benefits. UK tech companies also emphasised that the lack of a unified market for sales makes it difficult to expand into wider EU markets because barriers still exist in areas such employment law and tax.

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Common data standards have been another important part of the consultation. To promote cross-country collaboration, systems have to be able to talk to each other.

When the consultation was launched, Günther Oettinger, European commissioner for the digital economy and society, said: “Europe cannot be at the forefront of the digital revolution with a fragmented digital market. It is essential to have common standards and interoperable solutions throughout products and services. The digital economy should not be developed in locked environments and platforms.”

Although the UK government has been vocal in its support for common and open standards, it has warned that standardisation should be led by the market rather than by the EC or any other public sector organisation, but such organisations can provide leadership and support.

“With new technologies, we must consider the risk of pre-empting the market by attempting to create standards too early,” the response said.

“While preventing market fragmentation, future work should take care not to duplicate existing standards. They should focus instead on the mapping and maturing of existing standards, alongside relevant new standards, in response to use cases and real needs.”

The EC also aims to end location-based geo-blocking, which prevents price manipulation based on a customer’s location.

The UK government said it “strongly welcomes the initiatives” and said it does not believe “consumers should be prevented from seeing prices offered to consumers in other member states”. It wants to see a ban on the type of geo-blocking the EC defines as “being blocked upfront from accessing a specific webpage”.

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