By Nicola Taljaard
On 13 July 2022, the South African Competition Commission (“Commission”) released a Provisional Summary Report (“Report”) on the Online Intermediation Platforms Market Inquiry (“OIPMI” or “Inquiry”) which was initiated on 19 May 2021. The Commission initiated the Inquiry following reason to believe that certain features of the online intermediation platforms market could be impeding, distorting or restricting competition.
The Commission placed specific emphasis on getting small and medium enterprises (“SMEs”) and historically disadvantaged persons (“HDPs”) to participate in the relevant markets, and premised the Inquiry on the following competition and public interest considerations in relation to market features:
- Hampering competition between the actual platforms;
- Hindering competition between business users or undermining consumer choice;
- Giving rise to abusive treatment of business users; and
- Which may have disadvantageous impacts on the ability of SMEs and/or HDPs to participate in the market.
The Commission further noted a lack of participation by HDPs as a common thread which prevails in the online intermediation platforms market, which seems to languish in an untransformed state relative to the broader South African economy.
The remedial action proposed in the Inquiry ranges in severity based on the impacts which the market features have on competition, particularly in relation to SMEs or HDPs. The leading platforms on which the remedial actions are proposed are the Apple App and Google Play stores, Takealot, Property 24 and Private Property, Autotrader and Cars.co.za, Booking.com and Airbnb, Mr. Delivery and UberEats, and Google. Although the Commission did not consider it necessary to enter a dominance inquiry, it did remark that these platforms show features of dominance when considering their positions in the respective markets.
In addition to the more general constructive proposals, the Commission also suggests provisional remedies which are more robust, including against Google, stating that it plays an integral role in how consumers interact with relevant platforms. In this regard the Commission intends to further its inquiry into the viability of keeping Google Search as the default search on mobile devices in South Africa.
The OIPMI came to the provisional conclusion that the digital economy is deficient in relation the country’s transformation goals and deviates significantly from the transformation trends of other traditional industries. The lack of transformation in most of the industries investigated as part of the intermediation platforms continues to display major barriers to entry for HDP entrepreneurs. This conclusion is particularly pertinent in light of the ever-widening digital divide.
The Commission has made all of the documents and public submissions in relation to the Inquiry, as well as the Summary Report (which can be accessed here) available on its website. The public has six weeks within which to submit comments to the Summary Report, after which the Inquiry body has committed to consider the views and incorporate changes, where appropriate, to the final report and findings which will be released in November 2022.