Table of Contents

  • The impetus for this report is the 2016 Cancún Ministerial Declaration on the Digital Economy, which contains a commitment to study online platforms. Ministers declared they would seize the opportunities made possible by online platforms that enable innovations in production, consumption, collaboration and sharing, while studying the platforms’ social and economic benefits and challenges as well as the suitability of relevant policy and regulatory frameworks. That aspect of the Declaration is in line with recent comments from the United States business community urging that policy makers should try to better understand the benefits and potential issues that arise in the context of the ongoing platform growth. This report, moreover, is an output under the OECD’s Going Digital horizontal project.

  • Online platforms support so many of our daily activities that we have become dependent on them in our personal and professional lives. We rely on them to buy and sell goods and services, to find information, and to keep in touch with each other. We use them for entertainment, news, transportation, accommodation, finding jobs and employees, finding apps, and for many other purposes.

  • Building on a 2011 report on the role of Internet intermediaries in advancing public policy objectives, a wider range of aspects and policy issues relating to online platforms has recently been examined by the OECD. First, in three meetings, the Competition Committee discussed key aspects of online platforms and related implications for competition policy: multi-sided (platform) markets, big data, and algorithms and collusion. Second, the supply side of online platform markets has been examined with a focus on new forms of work, while separate work on the demand side has been carried out with a focus on consumer protection in peer platform markets (PPMs).

  • The term “online platform” has been used to describe a range of services available on the Internet including marketplaces, search engines, social media, creative content outlets, app stores, communications services, payment systems, services comprising the so-called “collaborative” or “gig” economy, and much more. In this report, an online platform is defined as a digital service that facilitates interactions between two or more distinct but interdependent sets of users (whether firms or individuals) who interact through the service via the Internet. This chapter explains that definition and presents some economic characteristics that are common among online platforms.

  • Online platforms are a diverse group of entities that have had, and continue to have, a wide array of effects on economies and societies. This chapter identifies and describes the main impacts in that array. It presents most of them holistically, meaning that it discusses the benefits, risks and policy challenges brought by online platforms or in connection with them.

  • The company profiles in Annex A facilitated the development of a number of typologies for online platforms. These typologies could eventually be used to match the impacts in Chapter 3 with the categories of platforms to which they are relevant, which would facilitate more focused discussions and policy making concerning online platforms. Many different typologies of online platform are possible, and several are presented here. Although they were developed primarily on the basis of the 12 company profiles, they can be used to categorise all online platforms.

  • This chapter presents a variety of insights drawn from the company profiles in Annex A. These insights range from basic points about how different the platforms are from each other in ways including functionality, size, profitability and labour intensity, to observations about the factors that drove their success, to perspectives on the scale, scope and future of the big Chinese platforms.