The impact of the Internet on businesses and the global economy has been crucial in shaping new economic models, and at the same time, raising new concerns.
The Internet is one of the primary drivers of economic growth, which is visible in many countries that have placed the development of ICT as one of the primary tools for boosting the economy.
This is even more evident on a regional and global level. For instance, the European Union directed a substantial amount of financial support to Horizon 2020, one of its largest programmes dedicated to financing research, development, and innovation, especially in the field of commerce, and particularly to assist small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
The impact on the Internet economy
The impact of e-commerce - which in its broad term encompasses e-money, digital signatures, and online advertising and marketing - on individuals and businesses is far-reaching. E-commerce has brought about numerous advantages for consumers, such as the convenience of online shopping, flexibility and ease-of-access to different markets, more information and choice, and - perhaps more significantly - access to online banking and e-payments. Read more on e-money and digital signatures.
From a business perspective, e-commerce has influenced the supply chain management of businesses by integrating inter-company and intra-company functions, optimising the flow of information, facilitating the payment process, affecting the delivery channels, reducing overall costs (especially the cost of promotion), and enabling companies to reach customers more easily through online advertising and marketing.
However, now that businesses have access to the global market, competition - together with the pressure this brings on businesses - has also increased exponentially, while shipping and delivery-related issues are more complex when serving a global market without the traditional borders.
Other issues which have been brought to the forefront are the liability of intermediaries for third party content, and human rights considerations. Since businesses are increasingly handling personal data of consumers, they also have to adhere to stricter rules concerning privacy and data protection, which requires a shift from traditional business processes.
Additionally, concerns over security are among the biggest issues that affect the development of the Internet economy.
Emerging trends: Internet of Things, sharing economy, e-gambling
The Internet of Things (IoT) is an emerging trend which is having a major impact on the Internet economy. The integration of the IoT into business models reduces costs and increases efficiency. Many new businesses are now utilising ‘smart buildings’ to optimise energy costs and preserve the environment. The application of ICT solutions into business processes provides businesses with a competitive advantage, which helps them develop faster than in traditional surroundings. Businesses are therefore demanding new tailor-made and innovative approaches from the IT industry, which is contributing significantly to the general economic welfare. Read more on IoT.
The latest model in e-commerce is the so-called sharing economy, which catapulted new players - such as Uber and AirBnB - into the global market. Such businesses have taken full advantage of e-commerce, such as through the integration of ICT solutions, by leveraging reduced business costs, and through more direct access to consumers. At the same time, such models have found opposition from traditional professions such as taxi drivers and businesses in the rental market. The regulation of the shared economy, still in its embryonic phase, is controversial.
A by-product of e-commerce is the emerging freelance market. On one hand, this has given rise to a vibrant startup community of freelancers and has contributed to strengthening SMEs and to reducing unemployment. On the other, this requires a new approach to labour, not least due to the treatment of income arising from online freelance work.
Another area that has significantly contributed to the Internet economy - and at the same time raised numerous debates - is e-gambling. Different regulatory approaches have been applied to e-gambling, due to its unique characteristics. The EU, for example, extracts this area from the regulatory framework for e-commerce, taxation, and e-money, and leaves it up to member states to regulate it. The sensitivity of this area and its interrelation with public policy, morals, the protection of minors, and cybersecurity criminal matters made an argument that regulation of e-gambling is more suitable to be conducted on national level according to each country’s political and social background. However, the interest of the global community for this issue is growing from year to year and even the EU has started to intervene on soft manner with various broad policy documents.
The economic aspects of Internet and electronic communications, broadly speaking, have pushed the liberalisation forces in these markets and have represented the foundations for the concept of a new market specific to the digital world. Even though a digital market is an excellent opportunity for economic growth, it brings with itself a number of regulatory challenges, especially with regard to competition issues. One of the current debates that is strongly related to the area of competition law, but in the same time net neutrality, entrepreneurship, content diversity, and freedom of expression is the ‘zero-rating’ pricing mechanism offered by some mobile telecom providers. Read more on Network neutrality and zero-rating.
Finally, according to the UNCTAD Information Economy Report 2015, the global business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce is valued at about US $1.2 trillion, while the business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce is estimated at more than US $15 trillion. The report also notes that B2B electronic commerce is growing faster, especially in Asia and Africa.