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…

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)…

Nicolas Petit ‘Are “FANGs” Monopolies? A Theory of Competition under Uncertainty’ (working paper)

This paper, available here, builds on draft sections of a forthcoming book on tech giants and public policy. It lays down the rudiments of a descriptive theory of competition among the digital tech platforms known as “FANGs” (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google). The paper begins by addressing the debate over whether FANGs are monopolies. One school argues that they are indeed monopolies, reflecting FANG’s control of a large share of output in relevant product(s) or service market(s), high barriers to entry, lateral integration and strong network effects. Some of these works also discuss (novel) theories of harm such as reductions in privacy, labour market monopsony and distortions of the democratic process. A different current argues that traditional monopoly harms are not manifest in FANGs. To the contrary, FANGs would outperform textbook monopolies by observable metrics of prices, output, labour or innovation. In addition, the tech industry is arguably rife with examples of once dominant later irrelevant companies like AOL, MySpace or…

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…