Commission publishes its communications on online platforms and collaborative economy

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On 25 May, the Commission published its communication on online platforms in the Digital Single Market. The document discusses the Commission’s views on the regulatory approach to platforms, key challenges ahead and steps to be taken in the near future. The communication also uses the results from the public consultation held late last year.

Online platforms and the collaborative economy play a key role in innovation and growth of the Digital Single Market as they offer clear benefits in terms of innovation, offering new services and products, opening up markets to smaller operators and enabling forms of flexible employment. Examples of online platforms include search engines such as Google, online marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon. They all use digital technologies to facilitate interactions between different operators, such as buyers and sellers.

In connection with online platforms, on 2 June 2016 the Commission published a Communication on the Collaborative Economy. In this context the term collaborative economy is used in relation to business models which use collaborative platforms and create an open marketplace for the temporary usage of goods or services often provided by private individuals for example AirBnB and Uber.

This Communication provides guidance to ensure all parties can participate confidently in the collaborative economy. In particular it addresses several key issues being: market access requirements, liability regimes, protection of users, self employed and workers in the collaborative economy and taxation issues. The collaborative economy blurs lines between consumers and businesses as it allows individuals to provide services. Therefore there becomes a need to provide proportionate legislation to protect those where ‘peer to peer’ services are provided. The Communication provides guidance on those circumstances that point towards an individual operating in a more ‘trader like’ context. In this case factors such as frequency of the provision of services, a profit seeking motive and level of turnover should be looked at.

It is clear therefore that whilst online platforms and the collaborative economy bring significant benefits to the digital single market, there is difficulty in applying a ‘one size fits all’ approach to legislation in this respect. The guidance in both Communications aims to support and provide a proportionate and fair approach to both consumers and businesses.

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