Arcom launches a public consultation on access to data from online platforms for research

by Eric Munch (Observer) posted on 13 June, 2022   (public)

Consultation to help shape new model of regulation for platforms, acknowledging researchers' crucial role in assessing systemic risks

On 25 May 2022, Arcom launched a public consultation on access to data from online platforms for research purposes.

In the context of a global information ecosystem, Arcom has identified a crucial need for research to study dynamics and develop new tools and approaches. The research community has a key role to play in understanding online usage. As the regulator entrusted with systemic regulatory powers over online platform operators since 2018, Arcom is willing to facilitate access to data for researchers.

The lack of a unified framework or availability policy between platforms at national and supranational level creates a complex situation, which in turn has led to initiatives such as the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) to support competent authorities in their regulatory efforts with issues of online disinformation, including through the use of data from online platforms. Such data, at present, is mainly provided by platforms on a voluntary basis.

Art. 31 of the Digital Services Act creates a procedure for the EU Commission and national authorities (‘Digital Service Coordinators’) to compel access to platform data. Under this framework, regulators can order access for their own monitoring and enforcement purposes or for use by third-party researchers. Under this new model of regulation, researchers would play a key part to facilitate the understanding of socioeconomical, political and cultural dynamics stemming from the modern information ecosystem. 

Arcom's objective is to contribute to the debate on accessing data and building an innovative model at the European level: the consultation focuses on the issues over which it has jurisdiction: combatting information manipulation and online hate.

The consultation questions are divided into five main themes:

  • Experience: to assess the respondent's past experience in obtaining and using data from platforms. Several questions are specifically directed to online platforms and their data policies and reasoning behind such policies.
  • Governance: to define who the actors of research are (academics, journalists, think tanks, etc) and how data should be made available.
  • Construction of scientific projects: to ensure effective access to the right data and to assess criteria for access with the objective of producing quality research, made publicly available.
  • Data protection and technical considerations: to define the best options for data storage (a unique or several specific databases) and the associated technical considerations.
  • Feasibility of access and incentives: to find ways to support researchers (and mitigate funding and technical capability differences between institutions) and platform incentives to keep platforms involved in an open data dynamic.

The deadline to answer the consultation is 22 July 2022. All elements collected by Arcom will be summarised and made public, to provide input for debate on research-related data from online platforms.

Access to online platforms data for researchers: a hot topic

- On 31 May, EDMO's working group on platform-to-researcher data access published a report on the subject.
- The topic also features prominently in the work of ERGA: Recommendation 7 of the  ERGA Recommendations for the new Code of Practice on Disinformation (Nov. 2021) states that "Access to data for independent research should be binding under the new Code of Practice". Several webinars on that topic have also taken place with the participation of researchers and platforms.   

Source: Arcom