miércoles, 25 de marzo de 2015

The debate on Internet Platforms


Europe is in the middle of a period of reflection on its digital political priorities. Although we will have yet to wait until May to see which is the Digital Single Market Strategy announced in the 2015 Work Programme of the European Commission, we can expect in it the first concrete holistic result of the fierce debate around the future relationship of the European Union with Internet Platforms. The debate has had several fronts in the last months. From the ECJ sentence on the "right to be forgotten" to the unfinished study on the demand for Google anti competitive behaviour on the search market. But not always Google has been the centre of this battle, Uber, Facebook and many more has been one way or the other objective of scrutiny by the European papers or authorities or civic society or altogether at the same time.
 
Although the European Commission has not yet taken a decision on the approach to the relationships between EU and the Internet Platforms, other European players has made different proposals. The European Parliament approved on november 2015 an opinion on consumer rights in the digital single market where it showed it concerns on Internet Platforms in the markets of e-commerce, search and cloud computing. It was specially hard on the search market where he asked "the Commission to consider proposals aimed at unbundling search engines from other commercial services". In their contributions supporting the European Commission development of the Digital Single Market Strategy, several Member States has included the topic from different perspectives. It seems that there is a call for action on the issue, although there is no agreement among the European Institutions on the degree of harshness of the action (legal or soft-regulation).
 
However, it seems that the mere study of a change of the operational framework for Internet Platforms in Europe has raised concerns on the USA, the headquarter of the bigger Internet players. After the opinion approved by the European Parliament on November 2015, several members of the US Congress and Senate published open letters accusing the EU lawmakers of politicizing Google antitrust investigation. From the strategy followed by Google in its approach to the "right to be forgotten", some people sees that Internet Platforms are "encouraging conflict between apparent European and US viewpoints" in the approach to the operational framework for them. It is difficult to decide if this different approach really exists, but what is true is that some important (although conservative) US think tanks has called towards a prudent approach from regulators to the competitive cases where GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) are involved. The think-tank called for a flexible interpretation of regulations in order to avoid  "discouraging risk-taking and stifling innovation".
 
It is undeniable that defining a sustainable operational framework for Internet Platforms is one of the biggest challenge for policy-making in the 21st century. There is a need to create a new framework that allows a fair competition among players whatever its market position, do not harm any kind of freedom (trade, expression, privacy, ...) and respect consumer rights (choice, transparency, ...). Nevertheless, it should be a framework that should be created with care and avoid the risk of a neutral economy. As one of the best studies on platform neutrality proposed, in the short-term we should make an effective use of the legal resources and working on the medium-term on a proper organisation and regulation on the data ecosystem. Because in the future, every product will be an Internet Platform. What anything will be cars, domestic appliances or even houses?
 

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