EU Gives Airbnb And Facebook An Early Christmas Present

Sometimes you get a legal decision with ramifications that go beyond the actual ruling itself. That's how yesterday's Airbnb ruling feels. It could end up proving to be much bigger than simply a ruling on how much regulation the online holiday apartment rental site should face.

The EU Court of Justice's ruling will have come as a massive relief to Airbnb. A French hotelier's organisation had brought the complaint against the holiday rentals site. It claimed it was unfair that hotels renting out rooms and apartments are far more heavily regulated than Airbnb, and so EU rules needed to be applied to the American tech company.

The wider story is that the site is accused of sending property prices through the roof. With the ability to rent out apartments in the major EU cities for large sums on short-term agreements, the price of properties will only go in one direction

The end result is that people cannot afford to live in the city they grew up in. Go to Barcelona, for example, and many local people will tell you they despise the app as part of what they see as making their city far too touristy and way too expensive to live in.

The fly in the ointment, however, was the Court of Justice disagreeing and siding with Airbnb. It ruled that the site is not a real estate agency or an online hotelier. Instead, it's an information site that can carry on operating as it does currently, without the prospect of being regulated as a real estate agency. 

The ruling will be not only welcome at Airbnb for signalling a victory over how the law should view it but as it prepares to float, knowing a major court case has gone its way in a huge market can only serve to reassure investors. 

The huge question will remain, then -- how can Airbnb not be a real estate agent when Uber is a taxi company?

It seems the apartment rental site got a much more favourable outcome than the app people can use to hail a taxi ride. 

I have no insider knowledge or legal brain to explain why, but I would imagine it is because Airbnb was deemed to put someone with a flat in touch with someone who wants to rent it -- whereas Uber is seen as running the entire process from its platform. Is it that it's more of a full service, rather than putting the two sides in touch in a safe environment?

The good news wasn't limited to Airbnb yesterday. Facebook got a boost as well from a top legal advisor to the EU's Court of Justice advising that Facebook's transfer of user data from the EU to the US is legal.

Yes, do not adjust your sets -- you did read that right. The EU, or at least one of its top advisors, just gave Facebook a Christmas present by cutting it a little slack.

An Austrian privacy campaigner had said the social giant was acting illegally when it allows data gathered in the EU to be sent to the US.

My initial reaction to the case was two simple words -- "safe harbour." There are protocols in place to allow data to flow freely between the US and the UK, so it seemed an odd one to go after Facebook on. The advice to the court was entirely predictable, but will nevertheless be a welcome early Christmas gift for Facebook.

If you are thinking this is the time of goodwill and all is cool between the EU and the tech giants, though, think again. The first half of next year will see the CMA carry out a full probe into the duopoly dominance and a lack of data privacy transparency in the UK digital advertising market. The ICO will also be figuring out how much change it needs to see from Google et al to allow RTB to carry on unhindered while Google is also hauled over the coals in Dublin over GDPR compliance.

So, make not mistake -- this is an early Christmas gift, but the EU will soon go back to shouting "bah humbug" to the tech giants in the New Year. 

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