Case review of Apple v. Pepper  Harvard Law Review (2019) 33 382

Since Illinois Brick, standing to sue for violation of US federal antitrust law has been reserved exclusively to those parties who purchased directly from price-setting monopolists or cartelists. Indirect purchasers, who transacted with these direct purchasers rather than with the monopolist itself, had no standing, even if the direct purchaser “passed on” the full cost of the monopolistic overcharge to them in the form of higher prices. The Court prohibited these pass-through arguments because it judged itself ill suited to efficiently determine what parts of an overcharge are passed on at any given stage in the chain of distribution. The Court also worried that allowing pass-through arguments would undermine deterrence, as indirect purchasers, who could not sue as effectively as direct purchasers, would be able to claim a portion of what would previously have gone to direct purchasers in a successful suit. Last year, however, the Supreme Court in Apple v Pepper held that app purchasers could sue Apple for…

Herbert Hovenkamp ‘Apple vs. Pepper: Rationalizing Antitrust’s Indirect Purchaser Rule’ (2020) Columbia Law Review Forum 120(1) 14

The simplest measure of loss caused by an antitrust infringement is the amount of the overcharge caused by a conduct. However, customers of the infringing party may be able to pass on this overcharge to their own customers, which means that indirect purchasers may also suffer loss. The US – unlike other countries – typically limits the ability to claim damages to direct purchasers for the amount of the relevant overcharge (typically trebled). In Apple Inc. v. Pepper, the Supreme Court held that consumers who allegedly paid too much for apps sold on Apple’s App Store because of an antitrust violation could sue Apple for damages because they were “direct purchasers”. The paper, available here, argues that, working within the context of applicable rules, the majority reached the right conclusion. At the same time, and while this judgment eliminates some of the irrationalities of the indirect purchaser rule as it has been applied, it hardly adopts a definite solution to the…

Andrew Gavil ‘Consumer welfare without consumers? Illinois Brick after Apple v Pepper’ (2019) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 7 447

This essay, available here, examines the recent Apple v Pepper decision with a focus on two issues: its seeming rehabilitation of compensation principles and its approach to evaluating antitrust damages. Together, these two aspects of the Court’s reasoning may undermine the continued vitality of Illinois Brick’s decision not to allow indirect purchasers to claim for damages. The author argues that, although the Supreme Court formally retained Illinois Brick, the Court’s logic in explaining the nature of damages that flow from antitrust violations will prove hard to contain and difficult to reconcile with Illinois Brick’s simplistic conception of ‘pass-on’. That, in turn, will likely alter how parties litigate antitrust damage claims in ways likely to invite future challenges to Illinois Brick. Apple v Pepper also may have reopened long-simmering debates in the USA about how best to balance the twin remedial goals of deterrence and compensation. Given the evolution over four decades of a fairly intricate federal-state, public–private enforcement ecosystem in the USA,…

Viktoria Robertson on ‘Excessive Data Collection: Privacy Considerations and Abuse of Dominance in the Era of Big Data’ (2020) Common Market Law Review 57 161

It is debatable whether EU competition law already contains – or could and should potentially develop – antitrust theories of harm that apply to third-party tracking of personal user data on the web. Focusing on data gathering, this paper – available here – assesses two scenarios under which EU competition law may deem the vast amounts of data gathered by certain digital platforms excessive: excessive data “prices” and unfair data policies. In both cases, the competition law assessment is autonomous from other areas of the law: while a breach of data protection rules is not automatically a breach of competition law, a company adhering to data protection rules may still violate competition laws. The paper finds that EU competition law already possesses the necessary tools to address excessive data collection, while data protection rules provide much-needed context for this type of exploitative abuse. Section II discusses data gathering through third-party tracking. Tracking occurs both on the web and in applications (apps) for electronic…

Daniele Condorelli and Jorge Padilla ‘Harnessing Platform Envelopment through Privacy Policy Tying’ (working paper)

Entry into platform markets subject to strong network effects and high switching costs can occur in two ways. First, by offering drastically new functionality (i.e. through Schumpeterian innovation). Second, through “platform envelopment” whereby a provider in one platform market – the origin market – enters another platform market – the target market – and combines its own functionality with that of the target in a multi-platform bundle that leverages shared user relationships and/or common components. Envelopers capture market share by foreclosing an incumbent’s access to users; in doing so, they harness the network effects that previously had protected the incumbent. This working paper, available here,  revisits the economics of “platform envelopment”, with a focus on data-related strategies. In particular, it analyses the logic and effects of “privacy policy tying”, a strategy whereby the enveloper requests the consumers’ consent to combining their data in both origin and target markets. This allows the enveloper to fund the services offered to all sides…

Wolfgang Kerber ‘Data Sharing In IoT (Internet of Things’) Ecosystems And Competition Law: The Example Of Connected Cars’ (2019) Journal of Competition Law & Economics (forthcoming)

In Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystems, one firm often has exclusive control over the data produced by a smart device, as well as of the technical means of access to this device. Such a gatekeeper position can empower firms to eliminate competition for aftermarket and other complementary services in these ecosystems. This paper, available here, analyses whether competition law can help address problems concerning access to data and interoperability in this context, by reference to connected vehicles. In short, it argues that, while competition offers some solutions to these data access problems, on its own it is insufficient to fully address these problems. As such, additional solutions such as data portability requirements, data access rights or sector-specific regulation might also be needed. Section II provides a brief overview of the economics of digital ecosystems and of data interoperability. Data tends to be non-rivalrous in use. It follows that data should be used as much as possible to maximise its value….

Friso Bostoen ‘Online Platforms and Pricing: Adapting abuse of dominance assessments to the economic reality of free products’ (2019) Computer Law and Security Review 35 263

What sets platforms apart is their possibility to effectively cross-subsidise between the different user groups that are party to a transaction. Platforms often treat one side as a profit centre and the other as a loss leader, or, at best, as financially neutral. As a result, platforms must choose not only a price level, but also a price structure for their service. Given this,  the present article, available here, explores how potentially abusive behaviour involving free products (both goods and services) can be assessed under competition law. Section II looks at different dimensions of offering free goods and services. Free online offerings have become ubiquitous. This reflects lower costs brought about by the existing digital infrastructure (e.g. processing power, bandwidth, storage). However, companies still want to make a profit. In practice, offering services for free has the potential to attract the critical mass of customers that will allow a company to maximise its profits across its various products. There are three…

David S. Evans  ‘Basic principles for the design of antitrust analysis for multisided platforms’ (2019) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 7 319

Competition agencies and courts have increasingly had to deal with multiplatform businesses – and have started to incorporate economic insights on their operation into their decisions. Nonetheless, many questions concerning the design of antitrust analysis involving platform businesses remain unsettled. This article, available here, develops three basic principles for conducting the antitrust analysis of multisided platforms in light of economic learning, as follows: Section II explains how multisided platforms increase welfare by reducing transactions costs and resolving externalities among economic agents. Platforms lower transaction costs by bringing potential traders to a common place for interacting, thereby solving a collective action problem. The economics literature often relies on simple indirect network effects to explain how two-sided platforms create value. Positive indirect network externalities arise because the presence of additional numbers of the right counterparties increases the likelihood of good exchanges. In practice, however, the externality issues addressed by platforms are broader and subtler. Platforms also often deal with negative network externalities…

Gunnar Niels ‘Transaction Versus Non-Transaction Platforms: A False Dichotomy In Two-Sided Market Definition’ (2019) Journal of Competition Law & Economic

It is commonly accepted that market definition is more complex in two-sided markets than in normal (single-sided) markets. A proposal to simplify this exercise is to distinguish between transaction and non-transaction platforms. Two-sided transaction platforms such as payment card systems, online marketplaces and auction houses, are characterised by the presence and observability of a transaction between the two groups of platform users, so that the platform operator can impose a per transaction charge or two-part tariff (for joining and using the platform). In contrast, non-transaction platforms, including most media platforms, have no such transaction between the two sides. It follows that, while  in non-transaction markets one must define two (interrelated) markets, while a single market encompassing both sides should be defined for transaction platforms. The author argues here that this distinction is inapposite, particularly in the context of the hypothetical monopolist test. This article addresses the various theoretical and practical arguments put forward in support of the distinction between transaction and non-transaction,…

Francesco Ducci ‘Procedural implications of market definition in platform cases’ (2019) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 7 419

One of the most important questions raised by the economics of platforms, particularly for the adjudication of competition law disputes, is how to structure a legal framework that incorporates multi-sidedness while remaining consistent with the general principles guiding a rule of reason/effects-based analysis. Such framework becomes more complex in platform cases because the presence of multiple sides with interrelated demand coordinated by an intermediary platform raises additional questions that need to be confronted. This include: (i) How many markets should be defined, a single platform market or separate markets on each side? (ii) Should one aggregate the welfare effects on different users on the various sides of a platform, or should effects on each market side be treated in isolation? (iii) How should the burden of proof of anticompetitive and pro-competitive effects be allocated? Depending on whether the relevant market includes the platform as a whole or just one side, the boundary of the relevant market has fundamental consequences for…