As reported earlier here and here, France’s Law for a Digital Republic (“Law”) introduces important amendments to French data protection law. But once implementing decrees are adopted (expected later this year and in March 2017), the Law will also bring significant changes to online platform operators, telecom operators and online communication providers, as described below.

New consent requirement to ensure confidentiality of electronic correspondence

The Law amends the Postal and Electronic Communications Code by requiring telecom operators and online public communication service providers to maintain the confidentiality of user correspondence, which includes: the content of the message, the correspondents’ identity and, where applicable, the subject line and attachments. The automatic analysis of such correspondence for advertising, statistical or service improvement purposes is prohibited, except with the user’s express, specific and time-limited consent. The period of validity of such consent (which cannot be longer than one year) will be specified by an implementing decree expected by the end of 2016.

However, electronic correspondence can still be automatically analyzed without users’ express, specific and time-limited consent whenever the analysis is for purposes of displaying, sorting or dispatching messages, or detecting unsolicited content or computer malware.

Telecom operators and online public communication service providers will be required to inform their employees of the new confidentiality obligations.

New definition of “online platform operators”

The Law introduces in the French Consumer Code a new definition of online platform operators: Any individual or legal entity offering, on a professional basis, whether for free or for consideration, an online public communication service consisting of either (i) ranking or referencing content, goods or services offered or uploaded by third parties, by using computerized algorithms (e.g., online price comparison tools); or (ii) bringing together several parties (intermediation) for the sale of a good, the provision of a service or the exchange or sharing of content, a good or a service (i.e., marketplaces).

Enhanced transparency and fairness obligations vis-à-vis consumers

Under the Law, online platform operators are required to provide fair, clear and transparent information regarding (i) the general terms of use of any intermediation service, (ii) the referencing, ranking and dereferencing criteria for content, goods and services offered or uploaded, (iii) the existence of any contractual relationship, capitalistic relation or direct remuneration for the operator’s benefit that influences the classification or referencing of the content, goods or services offered or uploaded, (iv) any person acting as an advertiser and (v) when consumers are put in contact with professionals or non-professionals, the rights and obligations of each party under civil and tax laws. Implementing decrees are expected by March 2017 to specify these obligations.

In addition, online platform operators whose activity generates connections above a certain threshold (to be defined by implementing decree by March 2017) must establish and make available to consumers good practices guidelines aimed at strengthening the obligations of clarity, transparency and fairness mentioned above.

Marketplaces will be required to provide professionals with a space that allows them to comply with their own information obligations vis-à-vis consumers. The implementing decree specifying requirements for this space is expected in March 2017.

The regulator is empowered to conduct audits of platform operators’ business practices. The regulator will publish the results of these evaluations and a list of platform operators that do not comply with the information obligations.

Finally, websites that collect, moderate or disseminate consumer reviews or opinions will be required to provide a host of new information in a fair, clear and transparent manner regarding the conditions for publishing and processing these reviews or opinions. Here again, an implementing decree will specify the requirements for providing this information.