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EU set to reveal digital strategy on Wednesday

Loek Essers | May 5, 2015
Google could face increased scrutiny from Wednesday, when the European Commission outlines its strategy to make European companies more competitive online, and to simplify online shopping and movie streaming across borders.

Google could face increased scrutiny from Wednesday, when the European Commission outlines its strategy to make European companies more competitive online, and to simplify online shopping and movie streaming across borders.

Since the Commission outlined its Digital Single Market strategy in March, leaked drafts of the strategy have revealed details of how it aims to create one market for digital goods and services across all 28 EU countries.

A major concern for the Commission is the growing power of the U.S. tech companies providing the search, app store, e-commerce and social media platforms on which many online businesses rely.

The Commission will conduct a "comprehensive assessment" of the role of such platforms, according to a leaked document published by the Financial Times last week.

While the draft did not name companies, the probe's focus on transparency in search results, including paid links and advertising, will concern Google. It will be separate from ongoing EU antitrust investigations into the company, the FT reported.

Other tech companies could also expect some scrutiny. The Commission said it will review telecommunications and media regulations to adapt them to IP-based services such as Skype, WhatsApp and Netflix, which are increasingly being used by consumers instead of traditional forms of communication or entertainment.

The Commission also wants online platforms to facilitate the swift removal of illegal content. While no final plans have been presented yet, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), representing platform companies Amazon.com, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, among others, reacted to the leaks on Monday, saying that it would be a bad idea to regulate platforms as regulation would hit European companies hardest.

The CCIA also strongly opposed what it called a "duty of care" for Internet companies to monitor, judge and remove user or third party content on networks and hosting platforms. This, it said, would undermine existing measures in place to respond to problems online that strike a balance between freedom of speech, commercial freedom and controlling infringing material.

Boosting cross-border online purchases within the EU is also a goal for the Commission. While the Internet should allow people to buy or sell further afield, over half of all attempts at online cross-border orders fail because the seller does not serve the country of the consumer, according to Commission figures. Selling across borders is particularly difficult for small online businesses that struggle with the cost and complexity of having to deal with foreign value-added tax rules. The Commission wants to simplify VAT rules to boost cross-border business — after complicating them earlier this year to prevent multinationals such as Google and Amazon.com from routing digital purchases through low-tax regimes.

 

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