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25th Mar 2019

EU not planning one-size rules for internet giants

  • Ansip: 'It is practically impossible to regulate all the platforms with one single solution or regulation.' (Photo: chialinshih)

The European Union is not going to draw up a single set of rules for internet services like Google, Facebook and Spotify, digital commissioner Andrus Ansip has said.

“We had our project team meeting. We agreed very clearly that we will not take this horizontal approach, we will take a problem-driven approach,” Ansip told a dozen journalists in Brussels on Friday (15 April).

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Almost a year ago, the European Commission announced it would analyse the role of “online platforms”, which included “search engines, social media, e-commerce platforms, app stores, price comparison websites”.

The Commission said some of those platforms were "competing in many sectors of the economy and the way they use their market power raises a number of issues that warrant further analysis beyond the application of competition law in specific cases”.

In other words, case-by-case antitrust investigations might not be enough to regulate large online firms like Facebook and Google, and some additional regulation may be required.

But now, Ansip said the assessment was not likely to lead to new legislation.

“It is practically impossible to regulate all the platforms with one single solution or regulation,” he said.

The Estonian politician also spoke about platforms that facilitate demand and supply between citizens, the so-called sharing economy or collaborative economy, which includes services by companies like Airbnb and Uber.

“It's absolutely clear that this sharing economy will be our future. It will stay for a very long period of time,” he noted, adding that some legislation would have to adapt to fit with new technology, while also urging companies that they have to respect the existing rules.

But he said the commission needed to do more research to find out if any EU policy response was required beyond publishing guidelines.

“Today it's too early to say what we have to do exactly when we are talking about collaborative economy,” he said.

Ansip also noted the commission was taking a “step-by-step approach” to end geo-blocking, the practice of shutting out consumers because of where they access a website from.

Instead of a single rule that forbids the practice, the commission is instead planning to introduce several bills to end specific types of geo-blocking.

In December, it already presented its legislation on data portability – new rules that would give EU citizens the right to access their legally acquired digital content. This would mean you would be able to access the same Netflix series anywhere in the EU as you could at home.

To illustrate his opposition to geo-blocking, he loaded a video on his tablet, which showed what geo-blocking would look like if it happened in the physical world, in this case in a bakery.

This is about digital content. But the commissioner also wants to end the practice where companies with web shops refuse to sell to citizens based on their geographical location.

Ansip said the commission would come up with a proposal that would oblige companies to “sell like at home” - if a physical good is sold online in one EU country, any EU citizen should be able to buy from that company.

He added that this principle would apply only to the selling part of the transaction.

“An obligation to sell like at home does not mean there will also be an obligation to deliver. We hope private service providers will deal with those issues,” he said.

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