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Airbnb avoids tougher regulation in Europe as EU court rules it’s not an estate agent

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Apparently, it’s an ‘information society service’

airbnb new logo Image: Airbnb

Airbnb has won a court battle in the EU affecting how the company is regulated in the future. The EU’s top court has ruled that Airbnb is not an estate agent but an “information society service,” meaning it can avoid certain responsibilities.

The challenge to Airbnb was brought by a French tourism and hotel association, but the decision from the Court of Justice of the European Union means the US company will continue to operate as an e-commerce platform, without being subject to property rules.

These include France’s tough Hoguet law, which could have led to criminal sanctions for Airbnb. The company could have also faced new constraints in other key markets like Amsterdam, Paris, and London. In response to the ruling, Airbnb told Bloomberg that it will “move forward and continue working with cities on clear rules.”

Airbnb is not the only tech firm to have confused lawmakers with how it should be regulated. In many cases, the choice sits between regulating these companies with the same rules that apply to their non-digital counterparts, versus regulating them like an e-commerce platform, which usually means lighter controls.

Uber is a firm that’s faced similar challenges, but back in 2017 the same EU court ruled that the company is a transportation service, not a platform. The difference between Uber and Airbnb, says the court, is how much control Airbnb has over the services hosted on its platform. Airbnb allows property owners to set their own prices and rent their homes through other channels, while Uber controls pricing and automatically pairs up sellers and customers. In the end, the court wasn’t convinced that Airbnb has a “decisive influence” over the accommodation offered on its platform, according to BBC News.

Despite Airbnb escaping France’s tough regulations, the association that originally brought the complaint, France’s Association for Professional Tourism and Accommodation, told Bloomberg the ruling was positive. “We filed our complaint in 2015, and France has since introduced new regulations that apply also to Airbnb,” said an official. “Eventually Airbnb is going to be regulated in France, just not as a real estate agent at this point.”

This new regulation might not be far away. Politico notes that the European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, has said that the body hopes to revise the EU’s e-commerce directive as part of a push to regulate online businesses.