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EC sets out proposals for online platform regulation

The European Commission has outlined a number of proposals to better regulate the operation of online platforms in the Digital Single Market

The European Commission (EC) has set out new proposals to support and regulate the development of online digital platforms as part of its Digital Single Market strategy.

Described by the Commission as a targeted and principles-based approach developed over a year-long consultation, the outline proposals have been designed to support industry and stakeholder efforts for self- and co-regulation.

Anders Ansip, vice-president of the Digital Single Market, said: “I want online platforms and the audiovisual and creative sectors to be powerhouses in the digital economy, not weigh them down with unnecessary rules.

“They need the certainty of a modern and fair legal environment – that is what we are providing today. This means not changing existing rules that work, such as those related to the liability of online service providers. It also means deregulating where necessary for traditional sectors such as broadcasting, or extending certain obligations to platforms and other digital players to improve user protection and to reach a level-playing field.”

The EC said it would introduce comparable rules for comparable digital services, and committed to reduce the scope and extent of existing regulation where possible. It will also apply these principles in ongoing reviews of European telco legislation and the e-Privacy Directive.

It set out an obligation for online platforms to “behave responsibly”, retaining the existing intermediary liability regime as set out in the e-Commerce Directive, with specific problems, such as combating online hate speech, addressed through targeted instruments or enhanced voluntary efforts by industry.

The proposals also set out cross-border enforcement co-operation to make sure platforms fulfil obligations around existing and future consumer rights. Platform providers will also be encouraged to step up voluntary efforts to tackle practices such as fake or misleading reviews, and to recognise different kinds of secure electronic identification.

The EC also confirmed an initiative to promote the free flow of data, facilitating switching and portability of personal data between online platforms and cloud services.

Issues raised

In April 2016, a group of 11 European Union (EU) member states, including the UK, clubbed together to warn the EC against over-regulating online platforms.

The group set out a number of concerns, notably saying that too much legislation might act as a barrier to the development and growth of digital business models, and the wider economic growth that digital could bring to Europe.

“It would not be in the interest of European businesses or consumers and would put us at a disadvantage in relation to global competition,” the group said in an open letter.

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In response, the EC said it would conduct a fact-finding mission to explore some of the issues raised during the consultation.

This will look into concerns over unfair terms and conditions around access to important databases, market access, and general lack of transparency.

The EC hopes to be able to determine whether it needs to take further action in this area by this time next year.

AV media

The EC proposals came alongside a revised directive covering audiovisual media, which has now been updated to take account of the emergence of on-demand video services, such as Amazon Instant Video and Netflix, and video-sharing platforms such as YouTube and Dailymotion.

Such service providers will now have to take clear steps to protect children from pornographic or violent content, and all citizens from content that may incite hatred on, for example, racial or religious grounds.

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