A Web of Paradoxes: Empirical Evidence on Online Platform Users and Implications for Competition and Regulation in Digital Markets

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This article presents and analyses the results of a large-scale empirical study, in which over 11,000 consumers from ten countries in five continents were surveyed about their use, perceptions, and understanding of online platform services. To the author’s knowledge, this is the first cross-continental, multi-platform empirical study of users of online platform services of its kind. Amongst others, the study probed platform users about their multi-homing and switching behavior; engagement with defaults; perceptions of quality, choice, and well-being; attitudes towards targeted advertising; understanding of basic platform operations and business models; and valuations of “free” platform services. The empirical evidence from the consumer demand side of some of the most popular multi-sided platforms reveals a web of paradoxes that needs to be navigated by policymakers and legislatures to reach evidence-led solutions for better-functioning and more competitive digital markets. This article contributes to literature and policy by, first, providing a multitude of novel empirical findings and, second, analyzing those findings and their policy implications, particularly regarding competition and regulation in digital markets. These contributions can inform policies, regulation, and enforcement choices in digital markets that involve services used daily by billions of consumers and are subjected to intense scrutiny, globally.