UK CMA’s Digital Market Strategy

The CMA’s Digital Market Strategy, available here, could be said to be a reaction to the Furman Report reviewed last week,  even if the official reaction took the form of a shorter and earlier letter to Government which can be found here. The paper begins by describing why digital markets are different and how the CMA sees its role in their respect. The underlying features of digital markets include substantial network effects, economies of scale and scope, the role of data and the computing power to use it, scope for personalisation, and market concentration. Most of these are not new individually, but in combination they are novel. Combined with the pace of change, it can be hard for both consumers and public authorities to keep up. Some of these features, or their effects, raise questions, including: firms’ use of people’s data; the market power or ‘gatekeeper’ status of certain platforms; use of increasingly sophisticated technology to target advertising; or the risk of so-called ‘killer acquisitions’. The…

Italy’s Big Data Report

This is a report published by Italian competition authority, together with the telecommunications regulator and the data protection authority, on how to address big data. It is available here. In my analysis below, I will focus on the elements of the report that touch or focus on competition law. I would also emphasise that this is not the first competition authority in Europe to look at data – the joint Franco-German report in 2016 also looked at the intersection between competition and data. The decision to pursue an interdisciplinary study arose from a recognition that the characteristics of the digital economy are very often such that it touches on the competences of the three authorities. The relationship between competition, privacy and pluralism requires a particularly close coordination between different regulators, not only to ensure effective regulatory action but also to identify and reconcile possible trade-offs between the values protected by different regulatory schemes. Furthermore, joint action will allow a better understanding of…

UK Furman Report – Unlocking digital competition, Report of the Digital Competition Expert Panel,

This Report, which can be found here, follows a review ordered by the UK’s Treasury to make recommendations on changes to competition and pro-competition policy to help unlock the opportunities of the digital economy. The report’s recommendations build on a number of propositions, namely that: the digital economy is creating substantial benefits; that a number of digital markets are prone to tipping and being ‘winner-takes-all’; market concentration in these markets both creates benefits and incurs costs; but government policy and regulation have limitations. In the light of this, the report found that the standard tools of competition policy, evaluating whether mergers can proceed and whether antitrust action is warranted to remedy abuses by companies, could play a role in helping to promote competition and the associated better outcomes for consumers and innovation. To do so, competition policy will need to be updated to address the novel challenges posed by the digital economy. Some of these updates can happen within current powers,…

EU group of experts, ‘Competition Policy for the digital era’

This Report, which can be found here, explores how competition policy should evolve to continue to promote pro-consumer innovation in the digital age. It is structured as follows. Chapter 2 describes the digital world and markets. The report focuses on three key characteristics of the digital economy: extreme returns to scale, networks externalities and role of data. Regarding returns to scale, the cost of production of digital services is disproportionate to the number of customers served. While this aspect is not novel as such (bigger factories or retailers are often more efficient than smaller ones), the digital world pushes it to the extreme and this can result in a significant competitive advantage for incumbents. Concerning network externalities, the convenience of using a technology or a service increases with the number of users that adopt it. Consequently, it is not enough for a new entrant to offer better quality and/or a lower price than the incumbent does; it also has to…

Marco Botta and Klaus Wiedemann ‘EU Competition Law Enforcement vis-à-vis Exploitative Conducts in the Data Economy’ Max Planck Institute for Innovation & Competition Research Paper No. 18-08

This long paper (90 pages), which can be found here, seeks to understand how traditional principles of EU law – particularly those related to exploitative abuses and respective remedies – apply to new business models that mainly rely on processing large amounts of users’ data. The analysis does not extend to the US because, following Trinko, the authors consider that antitrust law there does not extend to exploitative practices, even if the FTC has powers under the Sherman Act to pursue such practices under consumer and unfair practices law. I am afraid the review is rather long, because this paper’s contents are the equivalent of multiple articles. The paper is structured as follows: Section 2 provides an overview of European case law vis-à-vis exploitative abuses. Art. 102 TFEU lists a number of exploitative abuses. Nevertheless, the European Commission has long focused on investigating exclusionary, rather than exploitative abuses. While this has led to limited case law on exploitative abuses, the authors identify…

ric Biber, Sarah Light (Berkeley), J. B. Ruhl, and James Salzman (UCLA) “Regulating Business Innovation as Policy Disruption: From the Model T to Airbnb” (2017) 70 Vand. L. Rev. 1561

The argument of this paper – which can be found here – is straightforward: scholarship about the platform economy has been ahistorical; focusing on the immediacy and novelty of the platform economy misses the fact that its interaction with the legal system does not raise fundamentally new questions from a law and policy perspective. From a business or economic perspective, history is full of technological and management advances that fundamentally disrupted business models over a brief period of time. This is not to say that current developments do not pose challenges to public policy. Regulatory policy generally—even necessarily—presumes a certain kind of organizational model for the activities that it regulates.  When business innovation upends that pre-existing model, the result is a disjunction between the structure of the regulatory system and the industry that is being regulated: a policy disruption. This has occurred in the past. Debates over whether and how the regulatory system should adjust to the rise of platforms…

Christopher Townley, Eric Morrison and Professor Karen Yeung ‘Big Data and Personalised Price Discrimination in EU Competition Law (2017) Yearbook of European Law 36 683

This paper – which can be found here – seeks to determine whether ‘algorithmic consumer price discrimination’ can amount to an abuse of a dominant position. It is structured as follows: Section 2 explains how ‘big data’ allows for greater personalisation of prices, and how recourse to digital algorithms facilitates personalised pricing. The paper seeks to identify whether ‘algorithmic consumer price discrimination’ enhances or diminishes economic efficiency. To do so, the paper reviews, in detail, the main economic theories on price discrimination, which have already been summarised when describing the paper reviewed in the post below. The authors observe that price discrimination can have rent-transfer effects (from consumers to producers), allocation effects (reflecting consumers’ willingness to acquire the product) and output effects (by pricing some consumers into the markets and/or out of the market). Which of these effects predominates in imperfectly competitive markets is a very hard question. Ultimately, the effects of price discrimination will have to be assessed on a…

Inge Graef  ‘Algorithms and fairness: what role for competition law in targeting price discrimination towards end consumers?’

This paper – which can be found here –  tries to identify when algorithmic price discrimination will be anticompetitive. Price discrimination is not per se unlawful or anticompetitive; on the contrary, price discrimination  may be efficient and lead to increased output. However, personalised pricing is commonly felt to be unfair – and it is undisputed (in Europe, at least) that some forms of price discrimination can be anticompetitive. This paper seeks to distinguish between those situations when algorithmic price discrimination is anticompetitive and those in which it is not. The paper is structured as follows: Section 2 looks at how price discrimination can harm competition. Two types of harm are identified: (i) primary line injury occurs where the supplier’s conduct discriminates against competitors in markets in which the supplier also operates; and (ii) secondary line injury takes place when a supplier discriminates between a number of its customers as against one another. While behaviour giving rise to primary line injury…

Niamh Dunne ‘Competition Law (and its Limits) in the Sharing Economy’ Forthcoming, Nestor Davidson, Michèle Finck and John Infranca (eds.), Cambridge Handbook on Law and Regulation of the Sharing Economy (Cambridge University Press)

As the title indicates: ‘This contribution (which can be found here) considers the potential application of competition law—specifically, the ‘antitrust’ rules governing anticompetitive unilateral or coordinated conduct—within the sharing economy.’ The sharing economy is described as a sector marked by recurrent characteristics, such as: (i) its underlying economic rationale is the under-utilisation of durable goods or other assets, which generates excess capacity that can be rented out; (ii) sharing economy businesses provide classic examples of ‘disruptive’ innovation, which originates outside a value network and displaces it; (iii) the innovations that underpin the sharing economy are rooted in the internet and mobile technologies; (iv) sharing economy businesses are often platforms in multi-sided markets; (v) sharing economy firms frequently conflict with regulatory regimes that control and limit the activities of competitors, resulting in recurrent critiques that such competition is inherently ‘unfair’. The paper is structured as follows: Section II examines how prohibitions against anticompetitive unilateral conduct may apply to the sharing economy. It begins…

Wolfgang Kerber ‘Digital markets, data, and privacy: competition law, consumer law and data protection'(2016) Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice 11(11) 856

This is a paper on the economics of privacy that focuses more specifically on the role of privacy in competition law assessments. It can be found here. The paper claims that it is not sufficient to design policy solutions focused on a single field of the law, e.g. competition law or data protection law. Rather, an integrated approach that takes into account different regulatory perspectives is necessary. This paper identifies competition policy, consumer policy, and data protection policy as the three main regulatory perspectives that must be taken into account in order to adequately address privacy concerns. Each area of the law is reviewed in turn, from an economic perspective, in an attempt to discern how policies might remedy market failures concerning privacy rights and how a more integrated regulatory approach can be developed. The paper is structured as follows: Section II provides a brief overview of the economics of privacy. It begins by noting (in line with the article…