Later this week we are likely to see the publication of a European Commission consultation on ‘online platforms’. Readers of DisCo who are keen observers of European digital policy have been waiting for this. Others may remain blissfully unaware of what this consultation will address. After all, nobody in Brussels was talking about the subject of platform regulation until the letters sent by the governments of France and Germany last November put the topic on the agenda and into the Digital Single Market strategy. Or, maybe the Google competition case had already spiked your interest, given how high profile and political that has become, Google’s search service being a platform after all.
If you have heard of online platforms it may be more in the context of ‘who’ is being looked at, rather than the abstract ‘what’. As the the UK Minister with responsibility for the digital industries Ed Vaizey said a recent House of Lords hearing on the matter “We need greater clarity….from the member states that are talking about platform regulation about what they mean by “platform”, what specific regulation they are talking about and what ill they are trying to cure”.
So given the confusion about the confusion, let’s begin at the beginning.
What is a Platform?
As I wrote on DisCo in February 2015:
[P]latfrom markets include newspapers, shopping centres, estate agencies, video games, credit cards, TV networks and many more. A market is two-sided when it brings together two-distinct groups, through a platform or intermediary, that benefit from each other’s existence. Ebay buyers benefit from having more sellers (and sellers benefit from more buyers), stores in shopping malls benefit from more shoppers and shoppers benefit from more stores, and Xbox video game developers benefit from more Xbox owners (and vice versa). The company that creates the platform makes money by creating value for the other parties in the system.MORE »