A European vision for human-centred digital platform ecosystems

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

EU Digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel and French Secretary of State Mounir Mahjoubi called for "a robust and agile framework to respond to the growing pressure of platforms which have become too important to decide alone or too big to rely on ex-post competition policies". [European Commission]

Europe must continue to establish itself as the global regulator of digital technology serving Europeans and respond to growing pressure from online platforms, write Mariya Gabriel and Mounir Mahjoubi.

Mariya Gabriel is European Commissioner for the economy and the digital society and Mounir Mahjoubi is French secretary of state to the prime minister, in charge of digital.

The rise of the platform economy is an opportunity for citizens and for society as a whole. It also shakes us up dramatically, by the speed and magnitude of change: every second, millions of social interactions or commercial transactions are now operated on these platforms.

For our democracies, these platforms pose a triple challenge: economic, on taxation, competition and relations with SMEs; social with the impact on employment and workers protection; societal, with the protection of personal data, illegal content and the fight against addictions. Meeting these challenges is a long-term task for local, national, European and even global authorities. Ensuring a successful integration of platforms in the industrial and societal fabric is paramount for achieving a sustainable and inclusive prosperity.

For this to happen, we need to have a common European vision, the only relevant level, to define new, fit for purpose and proportionate regulations. Indeed, online platforms do have disruptive effects on our policies and we have no choice but to anchor this vision on the very essence of our common project: European values. In this respect, putting people at the heart of our actions is the only way to ensure that the greatest number, and not the most privileged, benefits from the technological revolution: dignity of the person, fight against inequalities, protection of the vulnerable, respect for private property.

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These values ​​must be translated into concrete actions. Europe knows how to do it, as illustrated with recently passed regulations on net neutrality or privacy protection, as well as with the draft regulation adopted last week by the European Commission. This regulation aims at protecting business users against platforms, a world premiere. It illustrates that Europe does not fear to regulate, when necessary.  Concretely, it will allow companies to be better informed about platform strategies and to be protected in case of dispute. The regulation is also future-proofed with the establishment of an observatory for platform transparency. Finally, it complements actions already taken to reinforce platforms’ responsibility, in particular to fight against illegal contents such as hate speech, terrorism or copyright-protected content.

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Looking ahead, to continue building a humane digital society based on people-centred innovation, Europe must continue to establish itself as the global regulator of digital technology serving Europeans and all those who share our values.

Europe will first have to equip itself with the capacity to better anticipate and analyse emerging issues and to have real-time access to platforms’ activities and operations. There is still a huge lack of knowledge and transparency, in particular regarding algorithms or data management. Without such proper knowledge monitoring the implementation of consumer, corporate or citizen protection regulations in the online world will remain an uphill battle.

Second, we will need a robust and agile framework to respond to the growing pressure of platforms which have become too important to decide alone or too big to rely on ex-post competition policies. We need to explore the prospect of oversight based on existing models such as regulatory frameworks set up for critical infrastructure or systemically important financial institutions. The sharing of data held by private companies will also be crucial in this respect, in order to foster competition through innovation and research.

This op-ed was originally published in French in Les Echos.

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