Vikas Kathuria and Jure Globocnik ‘Exclusionary conduct in data-driven markets: limitations of data sharing remedies’ (2020) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 8 511

By depriving its rivals of gaining scale in data, a dominant player can successfully exploit demand-side scale economies, i.e. network effects, to its benefit in a two-sided market. In effect, dominant undertakings may be able to exclude their rivals from accessing user data and thus deprive them of scale in markets that are characterised by network effects. In the face of exclusionary conduct by a dominant undertaking in data-driven markets, a critical question relates to the nature of the remedy that can offset the harm to consumer welfare and restore competition. Intuitively, mandating a delinquent dominant undertaking to share wrongly withheld data appears to be an optimal remedy. This article, , available here, analyses the viability of mandatory data sharing as a remedy to restore competition in the affected market – and concludes that mandatory data sharing is not the optimal solution to remedy loss to consumer welfare. Section 2 considers the objectives of remedies in EU competition law. To…

Björn Lundqvist ‘Regulating competition in the digital economy’ in Competition Law for the Digital Economy (ed. Björn Lundqvist and Michal S. Gal) (2019, Elgar)

There is an intense academic discussion regarding whether consumers and business users are exposed to conduct that may amount to competition law abuses when using Internet services. The discussion is connected to the Internet phenomenon of ‘platforms’ or intermediaries. The multitude of direct customer–supplier transactions making up everyday business conduct are, to an increasing degree, replaced on the Internet by an intermediary, the platform, matching the customer with the supplier. Platforms are able to perform role because they provide efficient and easy matching. Further, internet platforms may, due to certain special and somewhat unique characteristics – like network effects, tipping and path dependency – become central ‘hubs’ between purchasers and suppliers. This chapter, available here, focuses on the application of competition law vis-à-vis the platforms collecting personal and non-personal data. It considers questions such as: may competition law be used to gain access to intermediaries’ data, and the infrastructure around that data? May competition law be used to limit the…

Klaus Wiedemann ‘A Matter of Choice: The German Federal Supreme Court’s Interim Decision in the Abuse-of-Dominance Proceedings Bundeskartellamt v. Facebook (Case KVR 69/19)’ (2020) IIC – International Review of Intellectual Property and Competition Law volume 51 1168

In June 2020, the German Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof) upheld the 2019 interim decision of the Federal Cartel Office (Bundeskartellamt) ordering Facebook to stop collecting data about its users without their consent when they use apps and visit websites outside Facebook’s social network.Importantly, the Federal Supreme Court confirmed that Facebook’s data collection was an abuse of its dominance in the (German) market for personal social networks, overruling an earlier decision of the Düsseldorf Court of Appeal (Oberlandesgericht Düsseldorf). This piece, available here, explores the relevance of the case – and the courts’ different decisions – from a number of perspectives. Section II describes the Facebook case, up to the Supreme Federal Court’s judgment. In February 2019, the Bundeskartellamt found that Facebook was dominant on the market for social networks, and had abused this position by imposing terms of service allowing it: (i) to collect its users’ personal data (and data related to their terminal devices) from outside the actual social…

Emilio Calvano, Giacomo Calzolari, Vincenzo Denicolò, Joseph E. Harrington Jr. and Sergio Pastorello ‘Protecting consumers from collusive prices due to AI’ (2020) Science 370 Issue 6520

This paper is available here. The efficacy of a market system is rooted in competition. Nothing more fundamentally undermines this process than collusion, when firms agree not to compete with one another and consumers are harmed by higher prices. The increasing delegation of price setting to algorithms has the potential to open a back door through which firms could collude lawfully. Such algorithmic collusion can occur when artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms learn to adopt collusive pricing rules without human intervention, oversight, or even knowledge. A first section looks at human collusion. Collusion among humans typically involves three stages. First, firm staff with price-setting authority communicate with the intent of agreeing on a collusive rule of conduct. Second, successful communication results in the mutual adoption of a collusive rule of conduct. A crucial component of this rule is retaliatory pricing: each firm raises its price and maintains that higher price under the threat of a “punishment,” such as a temporary price…

Zach Y. Brown and Alexander MacKay ‘Competition in Pricing Algorithms’ Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 20-067

Increasingly, retailers have access to better pricing technology, especially in online markets. Using hourly data from five major online retailers, the authors show that retailers set prices at regular intervals that differ across firms. Faster firms appear to use automated pricing rules that are functions of rivals’ prices. These observations are inconsistent with the standard assumptions about pricing technology used in the empirical literature. Motivated by this, the present paper – available here – considers a model of competition in which firms can differ in pricing frequency, and can choose pricing algorithms rather than prices. Relative to the standard simultaneous price-setting model, pricing technology with these features can increase prices. A simple counterfactual simulation implies that pricing algorithms can lead to meaningful increases in mark-ups, especially for firms with the fastest pricing technology. Section 2 highlights key features of pricing algorithms used by online retailers. The authors identify three characteristics of the use of high-frequency price data for over-the-counter allergy…

Cento Veljanovski on ‘Pricing Algorithms as Collusive Devices’ (2020)

This paper, available here, undertakes a critical review of the prospect that self-learning pricing algorithms will lead to widespread collusion independently of the intervention and participation of humans. It reviews the arguments and evidence that self-learning pricing algorithms pose a new and significant threat to competition and antitrust enforcement. It argues that there is no concrete evidence, no example yet, and no antitrust case that self-learning pricing algorithms have colluded, let alone increased the prospect of collusion across the economy. Part I explains why algorithmic collusion may be a problem. Academic lawyers, who argued that algorithmic pricing poses a real threat to competition which cannot be dealt with by existing antitrust provisions, initiated a debate over the threat posed by algorithmic pricing. The prospect that pricing algorithms can facilitate collusion by firms is not the principal worry of this academic literature. Rather, the concern is with a class of machine-based algorithms that can collude without human involvement. Through self-learning and…

Stefan Thomas ‘Harmful Signals: Cartel Prohibition and Oligopoly Theory in the Age of Machine Learning’ (2019) Journal of Competition Law & Economics 15 (2-3) 159

Information can be used by competitors to collude or to compete, and the challenge for competition law is to spot the differences. Signalling and any other type of informational exchange outside the scope of cartels are an emanation of tacit collusion. Tacit collusion, however, is generally considered unobjectionable, because firms are deemed to have the right to adapt intelligently to their rivals’ conduct. The law puts different labels on what is ultimately the same economic phenomenon, that is, conduct that leads to supra-competitive outcomes. The traditional legal approach for distinguishing between illicit collusion and legitimate oligopoly conduct is to rely on criteria that relate to the means and form of how rivals interact, such as elements of “practical cooperation” or findings of anticompetitive intent. This article, available here, contends that, outside the scope of classic cartel agreements, it is not possible to properly distinguish between illicit collusion and legitimate independent conduct by relying on proxies such as elements of practical…

Massimo Motta and Martin Peitz ‘Removal of Potential Competitors – A Blind Spot of Merger Policy?’ (2020) Competition Law and Policy Debate (6)2 19

Mergers that may look conglomerate or vertical at first glance may in essence be horizontal, inasmuch as they involve the removal of a potential competitor. Indeed, many conglomerate and vertical mergers can be addressed from the perspective of potential competition. Economists have started to look into vertical and conglomerate mergers which can be analysed from this perspective in the pharma and digital sectors; however, the issue is not restricted to these sectors. Merger policy must deal with two issues as regards such mergers: (1) how to make sure that potentially problematic mergers are notified and investigated; and (2) how to assess the social costs and benefits of such mergers. This paper, available here, looks at both these issues. Second II looks at the theory and evidence of mergers to remove potential competitors. Large firms have been taking over dozens of small technology firms which have not yet marketed their products, or that were at an initial phase of rollout. Such…

Mark Glick, Catherine Ruetschlin and Darren Bush ‘Big Tech’s Buying Spree and The Failed Ideology Of Competition Law’ (forthcoming, Hastings Law Journal)

Big Tech is on a buying spree. Companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon are gobbling up smaller companies at an unprecedented pace. Google has acquired 270 companies since 2001, including Android, YouTube, and Waze. Microsoft has made over 100 acquisitions in the last ten years, including acquisitions of Skype, Nokia Devices, LinkedIn and GitHub. Amazon has made a similar number of acquisitions. Facebook has acquired ninety companies. The law of competition is not ready for Big Tech’s endless appetite. This article, available here, shows how the extraordinary burden of proof required to prohibit a merger under the potential competition doctrine hobbles antitrust law and policy. It illustrates this problem with a close study of Facebook. The article assembles a database of Facebook’s completed acquisitions—ninety in all—and shows how the “potential competition” doctrine renders competition law entirely impotent to protect the consumer interest in this space. It further argues that, with à simple structural presumption, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)…

John Kwoka and Tommaso Valletti ‘Scrambled Eggs and Paralyzed Policy: Breaking Up Consummated Mergers and Dominant Firms’

Competition policy has been no obstacle to the rise of dominant firms in e-commerce, social media, online search and other important aspects of the modern digital economy. The well-documented results of these trends are increasing market concentration, entrenched dominance, diminished competition and entry, and harm to consumers and businesses alike. Competition agencies, policymakers, academics, interest groups, and others have proposed various ways of addressing the weaknesses of past policy. Most of these proposed policies involve more vigorous application of conventional tools, which, however, are unable to address current levels of market concentration. However, the most obvious solution – breaking up such firms — is generally dismissed as impractical, the equivalent of trying to unscramble eggs. The authors disagree in this paper, available here. The rationale for breaking up companies is straightforward: where the essential competitive problem with a company is its structure, in the sense that its anticompetitive behaviour flows inexorably from that structure and is otherwise difficult to prevent,…