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Taxation of the Digital Economy

Taxation of the Digital Economy

Taxation of the Digital Economy

Most online businesses pay lower taxes compared to traditional businesses, though they make almost equal profits. The digital platform opens doors for massive economic benefits in terms of growth, employment and improvement of the access to services. Businesses operating in the online platform reap massive profits from the market segment. At the same time, the digital economy gives rise to several challenges for policymakers. The digital world utilizes new ways of generating revenue of which current laws fail to capture. As such, most of the digital businesses evade paying taxes and make massive profits from selling user data. These challenges extend beyond domestic borders as other countries engage into the matter. The most affected areas are international privacy law and data protection. Re-evaluating the existing taxation system is necessary to enhance the taxation of digital businesses.

The existing rules provide loopholes for digital companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon to evade taxes on the countries they conduct business. Governments have come to this realization that these big digital companies make outrageous benefits from their economies bust still do not pay taxes. The current rules impose taxes on profits made by a company only if it is physically present the affected jurisdiction, and not if it only does its business through digital means. As such, all companies that conduct their business on the online platform in different countries are not liable to pay taxes as much as they generate profits from their population. Also, the current rules fail to recognize new ways in which profits are made by online businesses especially when considering the role consumers play in creating value for digital companies. Digital companies create value through a combination of algorithms and user data (“Fair Taxation of the Digital Economy,” 2018). The collected data is then utilized by the companies to carry out targeted advertising. Consequently, the host nation of the company reaps the profits and any levies taxed on the business does not account for user contribution.  However, such a system is not fair to the citizens of that country and to other businesses.

            Digital companies benefit from the same advantages and infrastructure as other traditional businesses. That is, for an online business to excel, it needs the active involvement of the public, access to high-speed internet, roads, and a stable legal system. Notably, all these factors are facilitated by the government in the office, yet it reaps nothing. As such, the digital platforms end up utilizing the existing resources financed by citizens of the nation in question at no cost. Despite, the online companies do not contribute to the development of the country by paying their fair share of taxes. This topic is of particular interest as taxes help governments to provide essential services to the citizens. As such, failure of the digital companies to pay taxes denies citizens the government support. In any case, the government needs taxes to provide essential services such as education, healthcare, and transport.

EU and the OECD have come up with several proposals to ensure that digital businesses contribute their profits in all countries they conduct business through a fair taxation system. The said tax does not only support innovation but also make all companies, digital or traditional, big or small, contribute equally to the economy. The European Union proposes that there is a need to reform the current EU’s corporate tax rules for digital activities. That way, member states will have the right to tax profits generated by online businesses in their territory even if the company does not have a physical office in the region. The new rules will ensure that all business types, either traditional or digital, contribute equally to the public finances. A digital company that surpasses specific criteria as outlined by the EU will have to pay taxes if the association finds it having a digital presence or a permanent virtual establishment in a member state (“Fair Taxation of the Digital Economy,” 2018). The European Union also proposes the introduction of an interim tax on certain revenue from digital activities. The tax will ensure that member states can begin to generate immediate revenue from digital activities that are currently not getting taxed as required. Activities targeted by the tax are those that users play a major role in value creation and which current tax rules find hard to capture.

The OECD, on its part, believes that there is a need to push for changes to address the challenges raised by the digital economy when collecting taxes. It pushes for 15 actions that will help governments address tax avoidance to ensure that taxation happens at the location where value is created and where economic generating activities occur. It further believes that a digital company which has a significant economic presence on a non-resident country has a taxable presence in that country (Shepherd, 2018). The report by EU and OECD gives several recommendations on how to handle the case of taxation of the digital economy to ensure that all business pay the share of taxes fairly without discrimination. The two organizations act as advocates, and they depend on individual governments in implementing the recommendations. Their efforts are starting to bear fruits as several countries are adopting the proposed tax system. For example, India enacted digital PE and other BEPS measures in their financial act of 2018.     

There should be a reform on the existing tax laws to ensure fairness in the business world when paying their taxes. It is highly unjust for traditional companies to pay more taxes than their counterparts in the digital economy as both entities benefit from the infrastructure laid out by the government. A company should pay taxes to the government where it is conducting business even if it lacks a physical presence in the region as it reaps profits as much as other businesses. Taxes help governments to provide essential services to the people that other businesses find unprofitable to invest. As such, every time a company evades paying taxes, citizens lose part of their resources that could have helped in solving their needs.

In today’s world, data has become the most valuable and profitable resource that online companies utilize to predict consumer patterns and interests. As such, personal data captured by these online businesses needs a form of regulations. Online giants such as Google and Facebook sell the data to other online businesses at a high cost, especially for purposes of market research. In view of this, new tax laws should ensure they capture all activities that happen online especially the creation of value by online users. Online users play a major role in redefining the value of a product and increasing its value. Thus, coming up with laws that would help capture every activity that is carried out by online users will ensure that online businesses contribute fairly to the tax system. The change will ensure that the tax system incorporates user contribution when taxing non-resident companies.

References

BEPS Actions. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/tax/beps/beps-actions.htm

Fair Taxation of the Digital Economy. (2018, September 20). Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/business/company-tax/fair-taxation-digital-economy_en

Shepherd, L. A. (2018). Digital Permanent Establishment and Digital Equalization Taxes.

Sledz, R. (2018, July 3). India Enacts Digital PE, and Other BEPS, Measures. Retrieved from https://tax.thomsonreuters.com/blog/india-enacts-digital-pe-and-other-beps-measures/

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