The House of Lords EU Internal Market Sub-Committee has launched an inquiry into the adequacy of regulation of ‘online platforms’ in the EU Digital Single Market.

This inquiry comes at a time when online platforms are taking an ever more central role in business and e-commerce, and has been prompted by the European Commission’s (the “Commission“) Digital Single Market Strategy which, among other things, focuses on the role and influence of online platforms in online markets. As the Commission states in its Digital Single Market Strategy communication, “…some platforms can control access to online markets and can exercise significant influence over how various players in the market are remunerated“. The Commission questions whether updated regulation is needed to monitor certain online platforms’ growing market power and the inquiry contributes to this debate.

Types of platform

The Commission has identified many types of online platforms including online marketplaces (such as Amazon and eBay), “sharing” economy platforms (such as Airbnb and Uber), social media platforms (such as Facebook and Twitter) as well as communication platforms (such as Skype and Whatsapp), search engines, maps, news aggregators, music and video-sharing platforms, payment systems and app stores. As the House of Lords EU Internal Market Sub-Committee press release on the inquiry states, “with a billion people recently using Facebook in a single day, the extent of our use of online platforms continues to hit new heights.”

Focus of inquiry

The key focus of the inquiry is to gather evidence of the benefits and problems that online platforms create for businesses and consumers and to question whether such platforms are sufficiently opaque in explaining the mechanics of how they work. Particular issues to be considered include data use and possible abuse, the extent of their market dominance and broader social and political issues pertaining to the prevalence of online platforms in business. The inquiry will examine whether these issues are best considered at EU or member state level.

Next steps

The inquiry opened on 17 September 2015 and the deadline for receipt of written submissions is 16 October 2015. The EU Internal Market Sub-Committee suggests oral evidence will be heard from October to December 2015 and there are plans to publish a report of results in Spring 2016.