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Implications of the Platform-to-business Regulation for online distribution and consumer platforms

| News | Consumer Law

Andersen organized a webinar on the P2B Spanish law, which entered into force in July 2020 and develops the EU Regulation on platform-to-business relations with the aim of creating a fair, transparent and predictable business environment for smaller businesses and traders on online platforms

The current health crisis has turned the already extensive and fundamental platform presence into a critical, strategic and unavoidable need for consumer and distribution companies. The Platform-to-Business (P2B) Regulation, which came into force last July, regulates the relations between platforms and the companies that use them to market their products and services to consumers, imposing obligations on platforms regarding terms of use, classification systems (ranking) of suppliers and offers, decisions to suspend or terminate service or the management of complaints and disputes, or access to data, among other aspects. In this way, the new rule aims to balance the relationship between platforms and companies and to mitigate the effects of dependency.

This was made clear during the conference on "The implications of the P2B regulation for online distribution and consumption platforms" organised by Andersen's Consumer Affairs department with the aim of finding out the keys to the regulation and assessing its impact on the design of the business model and planning of the activity. During the event, Vanesa Fernández, Director in Andersen and responsible for the Consumer Department; Teresa Rodríguez de las Heras, Of Counsel of the firm and expert in digital business, and Natalia Álvarez, Of Counsel of the firm and Professor of Civil Law at the University of A Coruña, analysed the internal configuration of policies and procedures and the processing of complaints and conflict management in the platform economy.

Teresa Rodríguez de las Heras highlighted the strategic value of these regulations for platforms and companies. "Although the effect on the design of the platforms' business model to adapt to the standards of the Regulation is the most direct and evident, the European regulation also has an indirect effect on the companies that use the platforms to distribute their products and services," she said. Since the Regulation is based fundamentally, although not only, on transparency parameters, obliging the platforms to inform and clearly describe their policies and decisions on termination or suspension, classification of suppliers and offers, access and use of data, or differential treatment, companies or professional users have more extensive and complete information to plan their distribution activity and thus interact with their customers on the platform. For Andersen's Of Counsel, this second dimension of the Regulation has an important strategic value that should not be ignored.

After this initial contextualisation of the Regulation within the framework of the European strategy for a digital single market, Rodríguez de las Heras went on to analyse the key points of the Regulation in more detail. To this end, he said, "we must begin by determining the scope of the Regulation, given the usual global or at least cross-border nature of platform activity". He recalled that the European regulation applies, regardless of the place of establishment of the platform, when professional users who use it are established in a Member State of the European Union and direct their products or services to consumers located in the European Union. He also set out the provisions of the Regulation and highlighted, among other things, the recent guidelines on classification criteria and internal systems for resolving complaints and disputes on the platform.


Avoiding opaqueness

Subsequently, Natalia Álvarez analysed the impact of the P2B Regulation on consumer law and stressed that, "although it is a regulation aimed at professional platforms and users, improving the functioning of the online platform economy and the commitment to more transparent legal relations that prevent unfair practices is also in the interest and protection of the consumer". She stressed that the Community regulation undoubtedly helps to avoid opacity in online consumer relations and adds new rules of due diligence with regard to the behaviour of suppliers and intermediaries in the network, for the purpose, among others, of determining the role or decisive influence of each one in legal relations.

Álvarez also analysed some of the rules of Directive 2019/2161, which, she said, "will introduce new duties for suppliers to consumers before contracting in online markets, and the obligations that are already in force in e-commerce between businesspeople, intermediaries and consumers, in accordance with the revised text of the General Law for the Defence of Consumers and Users (TRLGDCU) and the Law on Information Society Services and Electronic Commerce (LSSICE)".

For her part, Vanesa Fernández considered it particularly important that companies operating through online platforms "implement the obligations imposed by the regulation, taking into consideration its purpose, which is to ensure transparency and to complement the European regulatory framework for consumer protection, without losing sight of the fact that the European Commission is going to focus on combating online commercial practices over the next five years that do not take into account the right of consumers to make informed decisions and that abuse their behavioural biases or distort their decision-making processes, such as patterns of obscurity or surreptitious advertising, according to the new Consumer Agenda which was known last November".

To this end, Fernández set out the recommendations of the Andersen Consumer Department on this point, which urges all companies currently operating or going to operate in the future through online platforms to design a strategy towards professional users but also towards consumers, due to the indirect effect of the Regulation. To this end, it proposed different solutions including the revision of the design of the platform and of all processes and actions of interaction with and of the consumer; the carrying out of a consumer due diligence to verify not only compliance with said regulation but also with all the regulations that are applicable depending on the sector in which they operate and, finally, the implementation of consumer compliance systems to guarantee regulatory compliance of all the company's actions that have to do with consumers and to guarantee standards of conduct that will ensure that they will not suffer damage at a reputational level.

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