Projects

Behavioural Study on the Transparency of Online Platforms

The overall purpose of the study is to understand the impact on consumer trust and behaviour of enhanced transparency of online platforms towards their private users (consumers) in three specific areas, namely the criteria used by platform operators; the identity of contracting parties involved in the transactions enabled or facilitated by the platforms; and quality controls established by platform operators (or lack thereof) on the review, rating and endorsement systems.

Client: European Commission Consumers, Health, Agriculture and Food Executive Agency

Area: Behavioural economics

Methodology: Experiment

Project type: Tender

Period: 2017 (9 months)

Online platforms share key characteristics including the use of information and communication technologies to facilitate interactions (including commercial transactions) between users, collection and use of data about these interactions, and network effects which make the use of the platforms with most users most valuable to other users. They cover a wide range of activities including online advertising platforms, marketplaces, search engines, social media and creative content outlets, application distribution platforms, communications services, payment systems, and platforms for the collaborative economy. Online platforms have proven to be innovators in the digital economy; they have revolutionised access to information and have played a positive role in vitalising markets by better connecting buyers and sellers of services and goods. On the other hand, some platforms seem to be able to control access to online markets and to exercise significant influence over how various players are remunerated. This has led to a number of concerns over the growing market power of some platforms, including with respect to consumer protection, calling for greater transparency on how information is presented, filtered, shaped or personalized, especially when this information forms the basis of purchasing decisions or influences their participation in civic or democratic life.

The consortium will use their expertise in the area to assess whether or not consumers have more trust in platforms overall and make better decisions when there is a higher level of transparency concerning these items; that is, more and/or better information about them. The study will also provide behaviourally-informed insights on the most effective and efficient content and presentation features of any eventual information display, including where and when it such be displayed, for users to derive maximum benefit from it.

This study will contribute to the broad-based evidence reviewed by the Commission in the context of the regulatory Fitness Check of EU Consumer and Marketing Law. The ultimate study findings could inform targeted legislative or enforcement initiatives, non-legislative policy initiatives, and/or self-regulatory efforts by online platforms.