The European Commission is spending up to EUR 600K on a study preparing new legislation for internet platforms. The tender document seems to assume a need for new and far reaching legislation. And the money is not to be spent calling this into question. The Commission seems to consider that the recent record fines against platforms under competition laws, national legislation to tackle killer acquisitions and a contemplated new instrument on market inquiries are insufficient. It adds its voice to those who argue that platforms should be subject to more detailed and specific regulation.
The Commission lists several pressure points. Some of them are the subject of past and pending investigations and court cases: self-preferencing (where platforms are not neutral but promote their own business), access to the data that platforms hold, as well as several services and practices that may lock customers in. All these practices will be further explored in the study with a view to finding the right tools to drive change. The broad objective is to make platforms act as more neutral arbiters and to prevent that customers are locked in to "ecosystems" for individual services.
As many regulators are considering similar topics, the Commission's ambition is to secure a global leadership role for the EU. The GDPR is a good example for this effect: strict EU legislation that global businesses have to comply with and that thereby becomes a blueprint for regulators in other parts of the world.
Until then we should expect strict and aggressive enforcement under existing rules. With regard to pending court cases, it seems that the Commission is in the enviable position where it can only win: if decisions hold, they will confirm and reinforce its powers under competition laws. If they don't this will be a further reason to legislate. And if the court cases drag on, it may even get the best of both worlds.
How to increase and safeguard competition in digital markets and prevent public harms in the global digital economy. Several reports5 point to the need to consider an ex-ante regulatory framework to complement competition rules.