Binding rules for online platforms with regard to labour and social standards as well as consumer protection continue to be an issue of dispute among MEPs, as shown this week by the debate on the draft report on online platforms in the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy and in the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection.
The draft report, which is part of the Commission's Digital Single Market Strategy, provides among other for a definition of online platforms as well as for the clarification of liability aspects. Some of the MEPs pointed out the economic potential as well as the price competition, which favours consumers and rejected a too far-reaching new regulation as being obstructive to the market. Others stressed that online platforms too should be obliged to adhere to and implement common “offline” labour and social standards as well as consumer protection aspects (transferability, compatibility and transparency).
Finding common ground is made additionally complicated as the most diverse activities and sectors come under online platforms: search engines and social networks, but also profit and non-profit sharing platforms. In addition, the report has particular relevance due to the debate on fake news and hate speech, which are easily spread via platforms, giving another dimension to liabilities – who must when and under what conditions delete contents, how can these contents identified clearly and when is deleting contents a form of censorship and a restriction of freedom of speech?
Another strongly debated aspect is the fact that parallel to spreading a wide range of platforms, which for example offer private services, premises or equipment for hire, render chauffeur services or deliver meals, also those are spreading, which enable the placement of individual employees. This entails new forms of employment and the organisation of labour, which are frequently discussed under the heading crowdworking. They often promote precarious and atypical forms of employment and undermine labour and social standards.
Hence, the key question is how a balanced regulatory framework could be created, which protects employees and consumers, whilst at the same time providing companies with sufficient growth potential – a boundary, which, as it is well known, is interpreted differently by political camps. The Commission has announced an interim review of the Digital Single Market Strategy for May 10th; the Brussels Offices of AK und ÖGB will also discuss this issue next week within the framework of a high-calibre panel discussion under the heading “Digital Market or Digital Slavery? Organising Working People in the New Age of Platform Capitalism”.