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European Commission - Press release

Have your say on geo-blocking and the role of platforms in the online economy

Brussels, 24 September 2015

The Commission wants to hear from citizens, manufacturers, retailers (especially SMEs), right holders, data and cloud service providers and users, as well as all those involved in the collaborative economy.

Today the European Commission is launching a public debate with two consultations: one on geo-blocking and the other one on platforms, online intermediaries, data, cloud computing and the collaborative economy. Views expressed and information gathered will help the Commission assess the need for, or prepare initiatives as part of the Digital Single Market Strategy and the Internal Market Strategy for Goods and Services.

  • The consultation on geo-blocking and other forms of geographically-based restrictions will gather opinions on unjustified commercial barriers which prevent from buying and selling products and services within the EU. It covers, for example, customers who are charged different prices or offered a different range of goods depending on where they live, but it does not cover copyright-protected content and content licensing practices.
  • The second consultation launched today will look at the economic role of online platforms, which include, for example, search engines, social media, video sharing website, app stores, etc. It will also explore the liability of intermediaries as regards illegal content hosted online and how to improve the free flow of data in the EU and to build a European Cloud. It will look as well into the possibilities and potential issues raised by the rise of the collaborative economy.

Andrus Ansip, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, said: "Platforms play an increasingly important role in our lives. Platforms are part of a thriving digital economy but questions are also raised about their transparency and use of content. Geo-blocking too often reroutes or blocks consumers based on their nationality or place of residence; this is not helpful for fostering e-commerce since it frustrates the consumers, and it is even less helpful for increasing cross-border e-commerce which is to the benefit of both consumers and businesses. We will now embark on an evidence gathering exercise for both these important issues for a well-functioning Digital Single Market."

Günther H. Oettinger, Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, said: "Internet platforms have many beneficial effects on the economy. But we need a deeper understanding of the role that they play and of the way they interact with other businesses and with consumers. We also need to understand more about unjustified geo-blocking which is one of the most visible manifestations of non-Europe in e-commerce in the Digital Single Market."

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, said: "These consultations will provide important evidence for our reflections on how to 'upgrade' our single market to make the most of the digital economy and foster innovation and new business models such as the collaborative economy and put an end to unjustified discrimination of consumers in the internal market."

The Commission wants to hear from citizens, manufacturers, retailers (especially SMEs), right holders, data and cloud service providers and users, as well as all those involved in the collaborative economy. Both consultations will run until late December 2015 (for a 12 weeks period starting on the date on when consultations texts are published in all official languages).

Geo-blocking and other geographically-based restrictions

This consultation aims to gather views and information about the experiences and difficulties encountered by users and businesses when they access or provide information, and shop or sell across borders in the EU. Current rules prohibit discrimination on the basis of residence or nationality, both in the online and offline world, unless justified by objective criteria, and promote the free movement of goods and services across borders. However, companies often impose restrictions or apply different conditions to potential customers on the basis of their nationality or place of residence. The Commission's consultation identifies known examples, and contains questions to gather more real-life experiences. It does not cover geo-blocking related to copyright and content licensing practices.

The consultation will help the Commission prepare legislative proposals in the first half of 2016 to end unjustified geo-blocking, which could include targeted change to the e-Commerce rules and to the framework set out by Article 20 of the Services Directive and will contribute to the roll-out of the Internal Market Strategy.

Separately, the Commission is also investigating geo-blocking, and related issues in a Competition Sector Inquiry on the application of competition law in the areas of e-commerce area. There are indications that businesses themselves establish barriers to cross-border online trade, with a view to fragmenting the EU's Single Market along national borders and preventing competition. Some of these barriers can be addressed by competition law, especially when they include contractual restrictions in distribution agreements that prevent retailers from selling goods or services purchased online to customers located in another EU country.

Platforms, online intermediaries, data and cloud computing and the collaborative economy

This consultation seeks evidence and input for the Commission's comprehensive analysis of the role of online spaces where providers and users of content, goods and services can meet (such as internet search engines, social media, knowledge and video sharing websites, news aggregators, app stores and payment systems). The consultation looks into the role of platforms in the online content distribution. It also explores how to handle illegal online content (for example hate speech, child abuse content or content that infringes intellectual property rights), how far and in what way online intermediaries should respond, and what duty of care intermediaries may have towards their users. This is the first step in the Commission's examination of the issues around platforms, and will feed into a comprehensive assessment on the role of platforms and intermediaries planned for the first part of 2016.

Information gathered through questions on data and cloud in digital ecosystems will feed into the Commission's 2016 initiative to tackle restrictions to the free movement of data within the EU and help the Commission formulate its European Cloud initiative.

Finally the consultation looks into the possibilities and potential issues raised by the rise of the collaborative economy. It seeks views around the role of platforms in the collaborative economy and their impact on rights and liabilities, existing suppliers, innovation and consumer choice. The Commission is exploring this as part of the Digital Single Market Strategy and also more widely in the context of the Internal Market Strategy for Goods and Services, due in the autumn 2015. The outcome of this consultation will provide important input for further work on a European approach to the collaborative economy.

Background

The Commission's plan for the Digital Single Market (DSM) aims to tear down regulatory walls and finally move from 28 national markets to a single one which could bring €415 billion per year to our economy and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. The DSM plan consists of 16 targeted initiatives to create better access for consumers and businesses to digital goods and services across Europe; creating the right conditions and a level playing field for digital networks and innovative services to flourish; and maximise the growth potential of the digital economy. The Commission is also seeking views in DSM-related public consultations on the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, the Cable-Satellite Directive, an evaluation and review of EU telecoms rules, the needs for Internet speed and quality beyond 2020 and ICT standards (more information on consultations).

For more information:

Digital Single Market Strategy:
Communication – A Digital Single Market Strategy for Europe
Staff Working Document – A Digital Single Market Strategy – Analysis and Evidence

Press release:
A Digital Single Market for Europe: Commission sets out 16 initiatives to make it happen

Factsheets:
Questions and Answers on the Digital Single Market Strategy (MEMO)
Why we need a Digital Single Market
28 National Country Factsheets

Other useful links:
Webpage on the Digital Single Market (#DigitalSingleMarket)
Webpage of Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip (@Ansip_EU)
Webpage of Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Günther H. Oettinger (@GOettingerEU)
Webpage of Commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs Elżbieta Bieńkowska (@EBienkowskaEU)
President Juncker’s political guidelines
Commission Work Programme 2015

IP/15/5704

Press contacts:

General public inquiries: Europe Direct by phone 00 800 67 89 10 11 or by email


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