John Yun on ‘Understanding Google’s Search Platform And The Implications For Antitrust Analyses’ (2018) Journal of Competition Law & Economics 14(2) 311

The paper, which can be found here, seeks to describe the precise nature of the various anticompetitive claims against Google, and to develop an economic framework and empirical test to assess these claims. In particular, the paper seeks to develop a conceptual framework to assess claims of leveraging monopoly power and foreclosure of vertical search competitors that could be empirically tested and applied in other jurisdictions or future investigations in platform-settings with related allegations. The paper is structured as follows: Section II describes the precise nature of the antitrust claims against Google. Google operates a multisided platform that offers users free access to its content. In turn, it sells access to those users to advertisers who wish to convert those users to purchasers. Advertising platforms must compete for both users and advertisers. These platforms attract users through quality content, more relevant and less intrusive ads, and lower prices (typically, at free or highly subsidised prices). Ad platforms attract advertisers by having users,…

Michael Katz ‘Platform economics and antitrust enforcement: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ (2019) Journal of Economics and Management Strategy 28 138

This article, available here, argues that, while the economics of multisided platforms have led to important insights for antitrust policy, academic knowledge falls short of providing useful advice to enforcement agencies and courts on a number of critical topics. The author identifies several areas in which economics research could potentially make significant contributions to the practical antitrust treatment of platforms. The paper is structured as follows: Section 2 discusses various economic definitions of platforms. When should a firm be defined as a multisided platform? As has been widely noted among academics, there is a lack of consensus regarding the definition of a multisided platform. For purposes of antitrust economics, a fruitful way to rephrase the question is to ask: under what conditions is it important to account for cross‐platform interactions to ensure an accurate understanding of industry equilibrium, and when is it meaningful to examine just one side of a firm’s operations? The paper reviews a number of definitions that have been…

Friso Bostoen ‘Online platforms and vertical integration: the return of margin squeeze?’ (2018) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 6 355

The main challenge with anticompetitive conduct by online multisided platforms is finding a fitting theory of harm. The author argues here that one candidate theory has been overlooked: margin squeeze. Margin squeeze, occurs where a dominant undertaking charges a price for the product on the upstream market which, compared to the price it charges on the downstream market, does not allow an equally efficient competitor to trade profitably in the downstream market on a lasting basis. In other words, margin squeeze takes place when an upstream operator forces his downstream competitor—who is just as efficient—off the market by squeezing his profit margins. This class of abuse has for the most part been confined to the telecom sector, but its potential reaches beyond. Indeed, the tendency towards vertical integration and subsequent conduct of online platforms could renew the relevance of margin squeeze as an analytical tool. The paper is structured as follows: Section II outlines the fundamental elements of margin squeeze. This section…

Patrick Todd ‘Intra-platform exclusion in software markets’ (2018) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 6 409

This article, available here, analyses situations where platform operators design their platforms in a way that is liable to exclude intra-platform competitors. Exclusion in intra-platform markets require certain intricacies that existing theories of harm in antitrust law do not anticipate; thus, applying those theories unyieldingly is liable to cause confusion and result in judicial error. Authorities must formulate policies that detect anticompetitive exclusion without deterring innovation, and apply that policy consistently across comparable cases. Existing cases reveal that some authorities and courts have been taking a sensible approach to intra-platform exclusion, whereas others, especially in the EU, have shown a tendency to protect excluded intra-platform firms at the expense of consumer welfare. The paper is structured as follows: Section II defines software platforms and describes platform owners’ relationships with third-parties that distribute services through their platforms. Software platforms are code-based infrastructures that facilitate exchanges and transactions through the creation of one or multiple downstream ‘intra-platform’ markets. Through a platform, users can transact with…

Benjamin Edelman and Damien Geradin, ‘An Introduction to the Competition Law and Economics of “Free”’ (2018) Competition Policy International Antitrust Chronicle September 201

As the authors of this paper – which can be found here – say in the abstract: ‘Many of the largest and most successful businesses today rely on providing service at no charge to at least a portion of their users. Free services often delight users, yet also create a series of challenges for competition policy, including impeding entry, inviting overproduction on quality, and increasing the risk of deception and overpayment. This short paper presents these problems, examines the strategies that entrants can attempt when competing with free service, and considers possible regulatory responses.’ The paper’s main message is that, while free services have undeniable appeal to consumers, they can also impede competition and market entry. Competition authorities should be correspondingly attuned to allegations arising out of “free” services and should at least enforce existing doctrines strictly in affected markets. The paper is structured as follows: A first section provides an overview of businesses offering free goods or services. Some business…

Andrea Pratt and Tommaso Valletti ‘Attention Oligopoly’

In this paper, which can be found here, the authors develop a model of digital platforms as attention brokers that have proprietary information about their users’ product preferences and sell targeted ad space to upstream industries. The paper argues that increased concentration among attention brokers can lead to reduced entry, higher prices and less product variety in upstream industries. In a nutshell, the argument runs as follows. A monopolistic attention broker has an incentive to create an attention bottleneck by reducing the supply of targeted advertising. If an attention broker reduces the number of ads it sells, it will reduce the number of upstream firms that have access to consumers, thus increasing their market power. This bottleneck strategy can generate higher total profits for the upstream industry that are partly captured by the platform through higher total ad revenue. However, under standard conditions, this supply reduction hurts consumers who face less choice and higher prices. A corollary of this argument…

Daniel Madrescu on The SSNIP Test and Zero-Pricing Strategies: Considerations for Online Platforms (2017) CoRe 1 1

This paper, which can be found here, argues argues that market definition in online platforms requires us to revisit how the hypothetical monopolist test is applied. Given that one side of the market is often free, the application of the small but significant non-transitory increase in price (SSNIP) test will have to be overhauled. In the case of zero-pricing strategies commonly used by online platforms, the only feasible option for assessing demand elasticity for the purpose of performing the hypothetical monopolist test requires us to adopt a quality-oriented analysis, and to deploy a test based on the effect of a small but significant non-transitory decrease in quality (SSNDQ). The paper is structured as follows: Section 2 looks at the use of zero-pricing strategies by online platforms, and at the implications of these strategies in the context of market definition. Online platforms are intermediaries that cater to two or more separate customer groups by facilitating an interaction between them. The success of…

Jonathan Baker and Fiona Scott Morton on ‘Antitrust Enforcement against Platform MFNs’ (2018) Yale Law Journal 127 2176

 . This paper, available here, argues for more vigorous antitrust enforcement against Most Favoured Nation (MFN) provisions in the platform context. A MFN clause requires providers to refrain from offering their products or services at lower prices on other platforms. During the past two decades, antitrust enforcement against MFN provisions has grown, particularly in Europe. In contrast, there have been almost no enforcement actions against platform MFNs in the United States. The authors make a number of proposals to reverse this trend. The article is structured as follows: Part I shows how platform MFNs can harm competition and consumers, despite their potential competitive benefits. The authors’ draw on the economics’ literature on the effects of MFNs generally, and platform MFNs in particular. Simple MFNs commit sellers not to discount selectively, which assures covered buyers that they will be charged the lowest price offered by the seller. At first blush, one might expect this provision to lead to lower prices for covered buyers….

Chiara Caccinelli and Joëlle Toledano, focuses ‘Assessing Anticompetitive Practices in Two-sided Markets: The Booking.com cases’ (2018) Journal of Competition Law & Economics 14(2) 193

This paper, which can be found here, aims to shed light on the different approaches adopted by different European antitrust authorities to assess the allegedly anticompetitive MFN practices of a platform operating in a two-sided market. This is done by means of a law-and-economics analysis of the different approaches to Booking.com by competition authorities in France, Germany, Italy and Sweden, with an eye to discussing the specific difficulties raised by two-side market economics. The paper is structured as follows: Section II presents the key features of two-sided markets economics. Two-sided markets present some peculiar traits, which distinguish them from more “traditional” markets. Firms operating in these markets serve more than one group of consumers simultaneously and offer them the opportunity, as well as an interface, for fruitful exchanges. These value-enhancing interactions generate important direct and indirect network externalities among the groups, which platforms would typically aim to internalise. As a result, platform profitability depends not so much on the price level…

Marios C. Iacovides and Jakob Jeanrond ‘Overcoming methodological challenges in the application of competition law to digital platforms—a Swedish perspective’ (2018) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 6(3) 437

This article, which can be found here, reviews three cases dealing with multisided markets handled by the Swedish Competition Authority (SCA). The cases concerned online hotel booking, online listings of properties and the market for online orders of take away food. The article tests some predictions on the economic behaviour of platform markets that can be found in the academic literature against the outcomes of these cases. The paper is structured as follows: Section II outlines methodological challenges raised by the digital and platform economy. Platform businesses operate differently from traditional businesses, mainly because they function as matchmakers between different groups of consumers. While economists have developed new models better to explain the particular economic features associated with multisided platforms, the incorporation of these particular economic features into competition law presents certain methodological challenges. Firstly, while a platform may offer some services that a traditional business does not, one side of the platform’s service offering may directly overlap with that…