The Common Understanding of G7 Competition Authorities on “Competition and the Digital Economy”

While adopted on 5 June, this communique was embargoed until yesterday. It can now be found here. As it says on the tin, this document reflects the common position that the competition authorities in the G7 countries (namely, the Autoritá Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (Italy), the Autorité de la Concurrence (France), the Bundeskartellamt (Germany), the Competition Bureau (Canada), the Competition and Markets Authority (United Kingdom), the Department of Justice (United States of America), the Directorate General for Competition (European Commission), the Federal Trade Commission (United States of America) and the Japan Fair Trade Commission (Japan)) have reached on the digital economy. It may come as no surprise that the level of agreement is relatively thin, and that the document does not go into the most controversial topics addressed in the reports reviewed last week and further below. The common understanding begins with the mandatory section on the benefits of the digital economy. Investment and innovation in the digital…

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…

Beatrice Stange on ‘Romano Pisciotti v Bundesrepublik Deutschland: Increased Risk of Extradition for EU Citizens after Involvement in US Cartels’ (2019) Journal of European Competition Law & Practice 10(2) 89

This paper, available here , discusses the first deportation of an EU citizen to the US for competition law infringements. It focuses on a recent judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union on this matter. A first section outlines the factual background of the case. In 2010, a US arrest warrant was issued for Italian businessman Romano Pisciotti on account of his involvement in the marine hoses cartel. In 2013, the German federal police arrested Mr. Pisciotti at Frankfurt Airport during a stopover of his flight from Nigeria to Italy. He was provisionally detained and, a few months later, the German authorities accepted the US request for extradition despite Mr. Pisciotti’s legal appeals, inter alia before the German Federal Constitutional Court. Other extradition requests from the US authorities had so far been unsuccessful, mainly because most international extradition agreements (including the Treaty between Germany and the US) require that the sanctioned conduct must be a crime in…

Andreas Stephan ‘An empirical evaluation of the normative justifications for cartel criminalisation’ (2017) Legal Studies 37(4) 621

A growing number of jurisdictions treat ‘hard-core’ cartel conduct as crime, in the belief that the threat of incarceration is necessary for deterrence. For many years, the US was the only active criminal cartel enforcement regime in the world. Cartels were first prohibited under the US Sherman Act 1890 as misdemeanours, and became a felony in 1974. The US Department of Justice regularly secures convictions of firms and individuals – many of whom agree to serve custodial sentences under negotiated plea agreements – from around the world. In the past 20 years, there has been an international movement towards the US model. Around 25 jurisdictions have criminalised ‘hard-core’ cartel conduct, including the UK, France, Ireland and Australia – with many more having adopted criminal offences that relate only to bid-rigging in public procurement. Most of these jurisdictions have chosen to retain their civil enforcement powers in parallel, so as to use criminal enforcement selectively. However, there is still disagreement over…

German Monopolies Commission ‘Algorithms and Collusion’, Chapter I of the XXII. Biennial Report

The Monopolies Commission is a permanent, independent expert committee which advises the German government and legislature as regards competition policy-making, competition law and regulation. The chapter is already one year old, and can be accessed here. In data-intensive sectors such of the digital economy, pricing algorithms can facilitate collusion by automating collusive behaviour. For example, algorithms can stabilise collusion by allowing the collection of information on competitors’ prices and sanctioning deviations from collusive market outcomes more quickly. The use of pricing algorithms can also render explicit anticompetitive agreements or concerted practices dispensable. As a result, difficulties with determining whether a concerted practice is actually taking place will increase with the use of pricing algorithms. The Monopolies Commission considers that the use of pricing algorithms makes it necessary to strengthen market monitoring through sector inquiries. Since consumer associations are most likely to have indications of collusive overpricing, the Monopolies Commission recommends that consumer associations obtain the right to initiate competition sector…

Francisco Beneke and Mark-Oliver Mackenrodt ‘Artificial Intelligence and Collusion’ (2019) International Review of Intellectual Property and Competition Law 50 109

Current technological developments in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) have added further complexity to the discussion of whether, in the absence of overt communications, mere tacit coordination between competitors should be outlawed. Whereas some commentators argue that the dangers posed by AI should tip the balance towards making tacit coordination illegal, there are others who are either not entirely persuaded of the plausibility of such dangers or who point out that a competition rule focusing on mere inter-firm interdependence is not administrable. This paper, available here, reviews this debate with a view to establishing whether successful price coordination achieved by self-learning algorithms should be punishable under EU competition law, and whether the current regulatory framework is suitable. Section 2 explains how AI relates to antitrust. AI is expected to arise from certain types of software algorithms. An algorithm is merely a specified sequence of steps for producing a solution to a problem. Software is a composition of individual algorithms…

Albert Sanchez-Graells ‘Competition and Public Procurement’ (2018) Journal of European Competition Law & Practice 9(8) 55

This piece, available here, surveys the interaction between competition and public procurement law in Europe. It is structured as follows: Section II looks at recent examples of competition enforcement against bid rigging. Competition law enforcement in public procurement settings remains a top enforcement priority for competition authorities in Europe. This is not only clear in the practice of the European Commission, but is also demonstrated by a continuous string of cases brought all over Europe. Recent examples of this can be found in Poland (car towing and parking services), Belgium (railway infrastructure), Latvia (security services, distribution of professional stage equipment), Ireland (retail distribution), Greece (construction), Italy (consulting services), Lithuania (construction), Denmark (construction, passenger transportation), Romania (electricity consumption equipment), or Spain (advertising services). A continued focus on competition enforcement against bid-rigging seems adequate, given the continued trend towards less competitive tenders for public contracts over the last decade or so—in part, as a result of procurement aggregation strategies, but also as a result…