Policy papers

Making digital opportunities work for people and the public good

24 September 2020

Over the past 20 years, the digital transformation has, in some respects, shaped our daily activity beyond recognition. Digital services proliferate; the platform economy delivers both goods and services to our door; and, in the midst of a global pandemic many of us find we can hold meeting, events, and even conduct office jobs from the comfort of our own homes.

Indeed, the “emergence of new digital opportunities has had significant positive impacts,” claims a new position paper by Eurocities, the network for larger cities. Nonetheless, the digital transformation has “created challenges for cities.” This is partly because new business activities of the platform economy were not envisaged in existing legislation, leaving gaps where current regulation is unable to reign in some of the negative impacts of digital services on public life.

Ahead of the announced Digital Services Act of the European Commission, Eurocities shares several recommendations on how to bridge this gap.

Matching our online and offline worlds

When it comes to regulating companies operating in the platform economy, such as Uber or Airbnb, one of the big concerns of city authorities is access to data, without which law enforcement cannot be done. Additionally, according to the network, data can also be used to create better public policy and better services.

For example, the consequences of illegal housing rentals can include reducing the stock of houses intended for residential use, the increase of nuisances (e.g. noise disturbance) in city districts, and sometimes breaching other areas of public safety such as how many people can stay in one location. With access to the right data, city authorities can start to work with these companies to address these issues.

The cities network also highlighted that many platform services are legally based in just one EU member state, yet provide services across several others; often avoiding obligations to meet local regulations by doing so. And, when requests are made “by city authorities to flag illegal goods and services” they “have often been ignored” states the paper.

The status of collaborative economy companies is ambiguous, given that their evolution has occurred since the EU’s e-Commerce Directive was first introduced, which provides the current grounding for what may be considered information society services.

Moreover, there is often little incentive for collaborative economy platforms to do anything about illegal activity occurring through their services. With this in mind, the network recommends better ways for cities to flag up illegal activity as well as more responsibility on the part of service providers, such as requiring hosting service providers to take down illegal goods and services from their sites.

To simplify and ensure the fair and effective application of EU regulation at local level, the paper further recommends to “support the establishment of a single European regulatory authority tasked with ensuring compliance with the Digital Services Act.”

Read more in the full paper here: Eurocities Policy Paper on the Digital Services Act