[A2k] Robinson & Barker in Brussels: EU to probe popular US sites over data use and search

Manon Ress manon.ress at keionline.org
Thu Apr 30 07:21:32 PDT 2015


April 30, 2015 12:18 pm
EU to probe popular US sites over data use and search
Duncan Robinson and Alex Barker in Brussels

Brussels is to take the first step toward tighter EU regulation of the
internet after coming under pressure from France and Germany to take a
tougher line on the likes of Amazon and Google.

Widening its battle against US tech giants after its landmark competition
case against Google, the European Commission will launch a separate probe
into how online platforms list search results and how they use customer

It is one of the proposals in a draft plan for a "digital single market"
encompassing everything from online shopping to telecoms regulation. The
draft, seen by the FT, will go to the commission for approval next week.

The plan could also bring in stricter rules for video-on-demand services
such as Netflix and messaging apps like WhatsApp and Skype that have become
big rivals to traditional European media and telecoms companies.

The EU's intensifying assault on big American tech groups has triggered
mounting criticism in the US, including by President Barack Obama, of
European protectionism.

The plan for a "comprehensive assessment" of online platforms comes after
French and German ministers urged the EU to launch an investigation into
the role played by the US internet giants.

Earlier this week, the French economic minister Emmanuel Macron and German
economic minister Sigmar Gabriel called for a "general regulatory framework
for 'essential digital platforms'" in a letter to the commissioner
overseeing the reforms.

They wrote: "We believe that the growing power of some digital platforms is
a wider challenge that warrants a policy consultation with the aim of
establishing an appropriate general regulatory framework for 'essential
digital platforms'."

The commission will start the probe "before the end of 2015", according to
the draft. It will look at the role of paid-for links and advertisements in
search results, along with the ability of individuals and businesses to
move from platform to platform.

Elsewhere in the draft, the commission said that it will "review" whether
on-demand services such as Netflix should be subject to the same rules as
traditional TV broadcasters. According to the document, on-demand services
are sometimes "subject to lower obligations" than their television peers.

Other measures to be proposed include plans to make it easier for small
merchants in the EU to sell goods to customers in other countries. As part
of the measures, ecommerce groups would be subject to their own national
laws rather than the buyer's as well as a set of EU-wide contractual
rights. The commission will also crack down on the opaque pricing
structures used by parcel companies for deliveries between EU countries.

The commission said it would launch long-awaited copyright reform before
the end of this year, which will probably spark a tussle between large
media groups, artists and producers as well as consumer groups.

Brussels will aim to introduce the "full portability of legally acquired
content" and allow "cross border access to legally purchased online
services". A crackdown on online piracy will focus on "commercial scale
infringements", rather than individual abuses.

Finally, the commission will launch another attempt to reform telecoms
regulation in the EU, to apply the same rules for traditional telecoms
groups and internet rivals such as WhatsApp and Skype.

Manon Ress, Ph.D.
Knowledge Ecology International, KEI
manon.ress at keionline.org, tel.: +1 202 332 2670
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