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…

Alfonso Lamadrid ‘Shortcuts in the Era of Digitisation’ (2019) CPI Antitrust Chronicle – October

Competition law is arguably one of the areas of least importance when it comes to the major societal challenges posed by digitalisation. Nonetheless, competition law has been advertised as a sort of miraculous tool that would right all wrongs. In this context, the idea of entrusting a Report to three independent Special Advisers before advancing a reorientation of the competition rules was a very sensible initiative on the part of the European Commission. However, the author does not really agree with the report’s conclusions. He explain why in a paper that can be found here. Section two discusses what are the specific problems that digital markets raise for competition law. The first question to ask is whether there is consensus about competition problems in digital markets. If the answer is in the affirmative, we then need to ask whether we can address those problems while still preserving the benefits flowing from digitisation. The Report and other similarly-timed initiatives suggest that there…

Peter Alexiadis and Alexandre de Streel  ‘Designing an EU Intervention Standard for Digital Gatekeepers’ (working paper)

This paper is quite long and dense, so I am afraid this review will be both as well. A series of studies and reports on digital platforms have suggested that antitrust policy requires an overhaul. This view is driven by the belief that, as regards digital markets, the risk of making “Type 2” errors (i.e., under-enforcement) is greater than the risk of making “Type 1” errors (i.e., over-enforcement); and that, in addition to competition enforcement, there may be a role for regulation as well. While the authors take the view that the imperative for radical change is less pressing in the European Union than elsewhere, it is nonetheless appropriate to develop a blueprint for intervention against digital platforms both ex post and ex ante. This blueprint is developed as follows: A first section outlines the principles governing when to intervene in the digital economy. The Internet has generated significant levels of consumer welfare. Digital markets nevertheless have characteristics which lend…

Martin Cave ‘Platform Software Versus the Software of Competition Law’ (2019) Journal of European Competition Law & Practice 10(7) 472

The emergence of two-sided platforms challenges competition law to adapt its ‘software’—the practical way in which cases are addressed. Competition authorities carefully and conservatively manage competition policy’s operating system, but the radical nature of multi-sidedness imposes major challenges. The purpose of this article, available here, is to discuss how these challenges might be addressed in practice. This is done by reference to a two-sided platform merger inquiry that was undertaken by the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in 2017. The case concerned two merging food-ordering platforms that linked restaurants and customers, and accounted for 80% of the market (with the merger leading to a 10% increment).  A monetary transfer linked the two sides of the market – these platforms were usually rewarded by a percentage of the customers’ bill. The wider marketplace also included firms which operated ordering platforms and provided food delivery (‘food-ordering and logistics companies’), as well as restaurants and restaurant chains which themselves took orders and delivered food….

Ariel Ezrachi and Viktoria Robertson ‘Competition, Market Power and Third-Party Tracking’ (2019) World Competition 42(1) 5

Trackers on our websites and apps enable multi-sourced data gathering. While numerous operators engage in tracking, a small number of data giants controls the majority of these trackers. This article, available here, considers the rise and growth of this industry, the power it has bestowed on a handful of platforms, and the possible implications for consumer welfare and competition. Section 2 describes the pervasiveness of third-party tracking. Third-party tracking is a mechanism through which a company (the third-party tracker) hooks onto another (first-party) website or application and collects identifiable data about users, enabling the tracker to build a comprehensive profile about these users. Tracking may occur both actively and passively. It may offer generic information on usage and webpage visits, or combined and analysed information which enables the identification of the individual. The gathering of personalised data – through third-party tracking or otherwise – is primarily relied upon for four purposes in the digital realm: to provide data-based (i.e. individualized or targeted)…

Gregory Werden and Luke Froeb  ‘Antitrust and Tech: Europe and the United States Differ, and it matters’ (working paper)

While merger and cartel enforcement lead to similar outcomes on both sides of the pond, there are significant differences regarding “abuse of dominance” and “monopolisation”. The European Commission and some national competition authorities in Europe have taken on tech giants in high-profile cases. However, hard-wired differences between the European and American enforcement regimes make very difficult for the US antitrust enforcement agencies to emulate their European counterparts. This piece, available here, seeks to identify these differences. A first set of differences relates to how an administrative model prevails in Europe, while the US system is mostly accusatorial. The European system was conceived of as regulation enforced by an administrative agency, not as law enforcement by the courts as in the US.  One important distinction in this respect is that a contested court order in the United States typically contains a series of conduct mandates and prohibitions, while administrative decisions usually merely provide for cease-and-desist orders. Furthermore, the European system is driven by…

Herbert Hovenkamp ‘Platforms and the Rule of Reason: The American Express Case’ (2019) Columbia Business Law Review, 1 34

In Ohio v. American Express Co. (“Amex”), the Supreme Court had its first explicit opportunity to apply the rule of reason to an allegedly anticompetitive practice on a two-sided platform– i.e. a business that depends on relationships between two different, noncompeting groups of transaction partners (e.g. newspapers, as regards readers and advertisers). This article, available here, considers how the rule of reason should be applied to an exclusionary practice on a platform market. It considers the rule of reason’s basic burden-shifting framework, unique elements of market delineation on platform markets, and the relevance of placing production complements into the same “market.” It criticises the Supreme Court’s unjustified conclusion that a market definition is necessary in an antitrust challenge to a vertical practice; its odd treatment of free rider problems; its lack of attention to the record and to economic analysis; and its confusion of total with marginal harms and benefits. Finally, it looks at the implications of the Court’s decision for market…

Pinar Akman on ‘Online Platforms, Agency and Competition Law: Mind the Gap’ (2019) 43 Fordham International Law Journal 209

The platform business model, inasmuch as it facilitates contracts between suppliers and customers, displays the qualities of an agency relationship more than any other commercial arrangement – and many platforms do indeed claim that they are mere agents. Since EU competition law does not apply to agreements between principals and agents – even where such agreements restrict competition – the implication would be that anticompetitive agreements between a platform and suppliers would fall outside the scope of, and could not be scrutinised by EU competition law. The same principle would apply to other competition system that adopts such an approach to agency (e.g. the US and many others). As a result, there is potentially a “platform gap” in the application of competition law in digital markets. This article, available here, argues that platforms’ relationships with their suppliers can be categorised as a principal-agent arrangement falling outside the scope of competition law. Since this “immunity” from competition law can have significant implications for…

Marc van der Voude ‘Judicial Control in Complex Economic Matters’ (2019) Journal of European Competition Law & Practice 10(7) 415

Already in the early 1960’s, the Court of Justice made clear that the application of competition law depends on contextual analysis that takes a wide range of economic and legal factors into account. Modern economics provides useful tools to deal with competition matters. The European Commission increasingly relies on these ‘mainstream’ economics in its assessment of competition cases, and courts have to make up their own mind on the merits of the Commission’s complex assessments and of the economic concepts on which the Commission relied to that effect. What kind of judicial control are the Union courts supposed to exercise over these complex assessments?  Under the current system set up by Article 263 TFEU, judicial review by the General Court, which has the final say on the interpretation of the facts of the case, is limited to the review of the legality of the Commission’s decision. In its case law, the Court of Justice has traditionally used formulae that suggest…

Massimiliano Kadar ‘Article 102 and Exclusivity Rebates in a Post-Intel World: Lessons from the Qualcomm and Google Android Cases’ (2019) Journal of European Competition Law & Practice 10(7) 439

Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) prohibits behaviour by a dominant undertaking that is capable of harming competition. The notion of ‘capability to harm competition’ has been at the centre of the legal and economic debate for many years. A strict interpretation of ‘capability’ would require evidence of actual or quasi-actual effects on the market in the form of, for example, the exit of existing competitors or sustained price increases. A lax interpretation of capability could make it possible to enforce competition rules also in circumstances where harm to competition is purely hypothetical and not supported by concrete evidence. This discussion – which is ultimately about the level of the standard of proof – not only influences the likelihood of Type 1 and Type 2 letters, but also the amount of resources that administrative agencies needs to devote to individual enforcement cases. Modulating this impact are presumptions, which can lead to significant savings…