New obligations for the operators of online intermediation services and search machines

Will the newly adopted EU Regulation really deliver the desired fairness and transparency in online intermediation services? 

Nowadays, businesses often gain access to consumers through online services such as, Airbnb, or internet search machines such as Seznam, Bing, or Google. Google, which today is the biggest of them all, recently received a USD 2.7bn fine because it had given preferential treatment in searches to results which were related to Google services, over results which were linked to the competition. Not least with a view to this scandal, a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council has now been passed to promote fairness and transparency for business users of online intermediation services.

The Regulation imposes a number of new obligations on entities which offer online intermediation services to businesses or operate internet search machines. These obligations concern primarily the content and intelligibility of terms of business, the algorithms by which the ranking of search terms is being determined, equal treatment, and the handling of complaints.

Basic provisions

Newly regulated are also situations in which the operator of an online intermediation service wishes to restrict, suspend or terminate the provision of services to a given business user. A provider who restricts or suspends services must provide the user with a statement explaining the reasons, and must do so no later than at the moment in which the restriction or suspension takes effect. If the provision of services is being altogether terminated, the provider must give the explanation 30 days in advance. However, this does not apply in cases of a repeated infringement of the terms of service by the user.

In the interest of greater transparency, the new Regulation requires that the terms and conditions of operators spell out the main parameters governing the ranking of search results, and give a description of all the options how to influence the ranking of search returns by paying a remuneration. The terms and conditions must describe all cases in which the provider of online intermediation services gives differentiated treatment to business users and their goods and services.

In order to protect the rights of business users, the Regulation newly requires operators to set up an internal complaint-handling process and to identify in their T&C two or more mediators whom they are willing to engage in order to resolve disputes amicably.

The Regulation also offers non-profit associations of business users a path to enforce the requirements set out in the Regulation in court.

Critical voices

Within the professional community, some have levelled criticism at the Regulation, claiming that it was merely introducing a host of formal notification and instruction duties which ultimately have limited impact on true fairness in online intermediation services.

No matter what commentators may say and what opinions have been published: operators will have to ensure compliance before the Regulation comes into force (on 12 July 2020), i.e., in particular, by amending their terms and conditions and by (re-)configuring their internal procedures.


Regulation (EU) 2019/1150 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 on promoting fairness and transparency for business users of online intermediation services


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