Digital Markets Act: Prohibition of Self-Preferencing in Ranking

The pro­hi­bi­ti­on of most-favou­red-nati­on prac­ti­ces under Artic­le 5(3) of the DMA is a com­pe­ti­ti­ve prac­ti­ce that rest­ricts the free­dom of action of com­mer­cial cus­to­mers out­side the plat­form. Howe­ver, most-favou­red-nati­on tre­at­ment is not to be con­fu­sed with self-pre­fe­ren­ti­al tre­at­ment, which is the sub­ject of this artic­le today.

For the sake of cla­ri­ty, here is the full text of Artic­le 6(5) of the DMA:

The gate­kee­per shall not tre­at more favour­a­b­ly, in ran­king and rela­ted index­ing and craw­ling, ser­vices and pro­ducts offe­red by the gate­kee­per its­elf than simi­lar ser­vices or pro­ducts of a third par­ty. The gate­kee­per shall app­ly trans­pa­rent, fair and non-dis­cri­mi­na­to­ry con­di­ti­ons to such ranking.

Art. 6 (5) DMA


The text of the regu­la­ti­on is straight­for­ward in com­pa­ri­son with other regu­la­ti­ons within the DMA. The back­ground here is also an anti­trust case stu­dy. The situa­ti­on is that a plat­form assu­mes a dual role in com­pe­ti­ti­on: first­ly, it acts as an inter­me­dia­ry for third-par­ty com­pa­nies, while second­ly, it is in direct com­pe­ti­ti­on with the­se third-par­ty com­pa­nies — on its own platform.

Within the frame­work of its inter­me­dia­ry role, the plat­form can influence its pre­sen­ta­ti­on results (aka ran­king) and thus rest­rict com­pe­ti­ti­on on pro­ducts or ser­vices bet­ween its­elf and the third-par­ty com­pa­nies. If this hap­pens wit­hout objec­ti­ve jus­ti­fi­ca­ti­on by a domi­nant or rela­tively powerful com­pa­ny, such prac­ti­ces are alre­a­dy pro­hi­bi­ted under gene­ral anti­trust law. A clear objec­ti­ve jus­ti­fi­ca­ti­on may be the pro­ven dif­fe­rent rele­van­ce of the pro­ducts or ser­vices on the inter­me­dia­ry plat­form. If the­re is no objec­ti­ve jus­ti­fi­ca­ti­on, then anti­trust law and also the DMA assu­me a con­flict of inte­rest: The gate­kee­per under­mi­nes his com­pe­ti­ti­ve con­te­st­a­bi­li­ty with regard to the pro­ducts or ser­vices. In doing so, he puts his own inte­rests abo­ve the inte­rests of the com­pe­ti­ti­on — to be pro­tec­ted by him.

Some examp­les are lis­ted in EC 51 DMA:

  • Online inter­me­dia­ry ser­vices pro­vi­ded through online search engines.
  • soft­ware appli­ca­ti­ons dis­tri­bu­ted through soft­ware appli­ca­ti­on shops
  • Vide­os dis­tri­bu­ted via video-sha­ring platform
  • Products/​services that are (1) high­ligh­ted in the news­feed of an online social net­wor­king ser­vice (2) dis­play­ed in search results or on an online mar­ket­place (3) offe­red via a vir­tu­al assistant


The text of the regu­la­ti­on pri­ma­ri­ly refers to ran­king. Accor­ding to Art. 6 para. 5 DMA, the gate­kee­per must car­ry out the ran­king on the basis of trans­pa­rent, fair and non-dis­cri­mi­na­to­ry con­di­ti­ons. What mat­ters is the result and whe­ther the pro­ducts or ser­vices offe­red by the gate­kee­per are trea­ted dif­fer­ent­ly or preferentially.

The term ran­king is defi­ned in Art. 2 No. 22 DMA (with my edi­to­ri­al highlights):

‘ran­king’ means the rela­ti­ve pro­mi­nence given to goods or ser­vices offe­red through online inter­me­dia­ti­on ser­vices, online social net­wor­king ser­vices, video-sha­ring plat­form ser­vices or vir­tu­al assistants, or the rele­van­ce given to search results by online search engi­nes, as pre­sen­ted, orga­nis­ed or com­mu­ni­ca­ted by the under­ta­kings pro­vi­ding online inter­me­dia­ti­on ser­vices, online social net­wor­king ser­vices, video-sha­ring plat­form ser­vices, vir­tu­al assistants or online search engi­nes, irre­spec­ti­ve of the tech­no­lo­gi­cal means used for such pre­sen­ta­ti­on, orga­ni­sa­ti­on or com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on and irre­spec­ti­ve of whe­ther only one result is pre­sen­ted or com­mu­ni­ca­ted;

Art. 2 No. 22 DMA

In other words, it is a mat­ter of the plat­form making a sel­ec­tion decis­i­on about results vis-à-vis the end user. All inte­gra­ted online search engi­nes are cover­ed. Thus, the scope of appli­ca­ti­on of this pro­vi­si­on is con­ceiv­a­b­ly broad and also includes mere pro­duct design decis­i­ons. This also results from the examp­les lis­ted, with which the legis­la­tor pres­ents the fur­ther poten­ti­al dan­ger. Moreo­ver, it is not decisi­ve whe­ther the gate­kee­per makes the decis­i­on hims­elf; a user con­trol­led by him would also be cover­ed. This is inten­ded to exclude cir­cum­ven­ti­on solutions.

A ran­king can alre­a­dy be wrong accor­ding to the­se gui­de­lines if one’s own pro­ducts or ser­vices are given a bet­ter posi­ti­on at the upstream stages of dis­co­very or index­ing wit­hout objec­ti­ve jus­ti­fi­ca­ti­on. In addi­ti­on, accor­ding to EG 52 S. 4 DMA, any mea­su­re with the same effect as a dif­fe­ren­tia­ti­on or pre­fe­ren­ti­al tre­at­ment is to be cover­ed. This covers legal, com­mer­cial as well as tech­ni­cal mea­su­res and cor­re­sponds to the broad prac­ti­ce of anti­trust law. Art. 6 para. 5 p. 2 DMA addi­tio­nal­ly sti­pu­la­tes that the gate­kee­per must car­ry out its mea­su­res accor­ding to trans­pa­rent, fair and non-dis­cri­mi­na­to­ry con­di­ti­ons. Accor­ding to EC 52 S. 4 DMA, the­re should be a par­al­lel with Art. 5 P2B Regu­la­ti­on, which also refers to the ran­king conditions.

What is not expli­cit­ly explai­ned is what is invol­ved with simi­lar ser­vices or pro­ducts of a third par­ty. What is simi­lar should again be unders­tood very broad­ly. Other­wi­se, it would be con­ceiva­ble that a gate­kee­per could design its own pro­ducts or ser­vices in such a way that they could no lon­ger be direct­ly com­pa­ra­ble with tho­se of third par­ties. Such a deli­be­ra­te cir­cum­ven­ti­on of the pro­hi­bi­ti­on should not be pos­si­ble for the gate­kee­per. This results on the one hand from the cla­ri­fi­ca­ti­on that mea­su­res with the same effect are also cover­ed. In addi­ti­on, the con­te­st­a­bi­li­ty in com­pe­ti­ti­on argues for an even more inten­si­ve inter­pre­ta­ti­on than in gene­ral anti­trust law, which only pro­tects the kee­ping open of the com­pe­ti­ti­ve process.

Fur­ther­mo­re, it is not direct­ly explai­ned which ser­vices or pro­ducts of a third par­ty are cover­ed at all. Howe­ver, it is only in this con­text that the actu­al con­nec­ting fac­tor of this pro­vi­si­on ari­ses, name­ly as a pro­hi­bi­ti­on of abu­si­ve pre­da­to­ry stra­te­gies. Art. 6 para. 5 DMA thus pre­sup­po­ses that the gate­kee­per must pro­vi­de the inter­me­dia­ry ser­vices to the third par­ties. This is becau­se the most seve­re mea­su­re with the same effect of self-pre­fe­rence is the com­ple­te exclu­si­on of the third par­ty com­pa­nies. This also pre­vents the gate­kee­per, within the scope of the pro­hi­bi­ti­on, from rest­ric­ting its pre­vious­ly open search engi­ne for purely self-mar­ke­ting pur­po­ses out of purely self-eco­no­mic inte­rest. Should a gate­kee­per ter­mi­na­te the busi­ness rela­ti­onship here or not include a third par­ty com­pa­ny in the search engi­ne, it could direct­ly rely on the pro­hi­bi­ti­on under Artic­le 6(5), irre­spec­ti­ve of anti­trust requirements.

About the author

Porträtbild von Dr. Sebastian Louven

Dr. Sebastian Louven

I have been an independent lawyer since 2016 and advise mainly on antitrust law and telecommunications law. Since 2022 I am a specialist lawyer for international business law.

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