Is uberPOP a transport service? Are Airbnb or booking.com hotel operators? Is Skype a telecoms service? The answer to these three questions is: no, no and no. These services, and many more that can be accessed on the Internet, are officially categorised under European law as information society services. As is often pointed out, they do not own and operate cars, hotels or telecoms networks.
This has not stopped some people from claiming that they should be regulated like taxi companies, hotels or telecoms companies, a claim that is not correct and does little to advance Europe’s economic and technological ambitions. Such claims illustrate, firstly, a reluctance to adapt and to invest and, secondly, a lack of imagination and understanding about how the world is changing.
This debate will be on show at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on 29th November when it will hear arguments on a case that has been referred from Spain. The case is about whether ‘uberPOP’ is an information society service or a transport service.
‘uberPOP’ is one of the tiers of service available via the Uber application (several types of service are available via the Uber app from ordering a black cab in London, pooling with others to reduce costs, or even ordering food with UberEATS).
It is clear to me and to other commentators such as Damien Geradin that not only is uberPOP an information society service, but so are all its online intermediation activities. However, that does not mean that no rules and regulations apply, or that none should apply in the future.