OECD work on Excessive Pricing (2011), looking also at price gouging

The OECD has ever written anything on competition law and price gouging. It has, however, asked Prof. Frank Maier-Rigaud to write a paper exceeding 80 pages on Excessive Pricing in 2011 (see here). Despite its title, the paper seeks to provide a framework for all exploitative practices. This is well beyond my focus today, so I will review those sections of the paper relevant for sudden price increases and exploitative practices following sudden shocks. The first and second sections discuss ideas of fair prices and economic value, and whether intervention against excessive pricing is justified. The idea of a just, fair or natural price, and with it the concept of economic value and rudimentary equilibrium notions, can be traced back to ancient Greece. They have occupied political philosophers and economists for well over 2000 years. Despite this longstanding debate, the fundamental question of the appropriate benchmark for assessing whether prices are unfair, unjust or excessive remains unresolved to this day….

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…

Marco Botta and Klaus Wiedemann  ‘To Discriminate or not to Discriminate? Personalised Pricing in Online Markets as Exploitative Abuse of Dominance’ (2019) European Journal of Law and Economics 1

The advent of big data analytics has favoured the emergence of forms of price discrimination based on consumers’ profiles and their online behaviour (i.e. personalised pricing). This paper, available here, analyses this practice as a possible exploitative abuse by dominant online platforms. It concludes that such practices can have ambiguous welfare effects, and be subject to a case-by-case analysis. It also argues that competition law is more suitable than omnibus regulation – particularly data protection and consumer law – to tackle the negative effects of personalised pricing, particularly because competition authorities could negotiate with online platforms different kinds of behavioural commitments that could significantly tame the risks of personalised pricing. Section II looks at price discrimination in online markets. Economists typically distinguish between three different types of price discrimination. First-degree price discrimination takes place when a firm is able to discriminate perfectly among its customers. Second-degree price discrimination means that the firm discriminates between its customers by granting discounts once…

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…

Nicolo Zingales ‘Antitrust intent in an age of algorithmic nudging’ (2019) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 7 386

This article, available here, surveys EU case law on the role of anticompetitive intent in abuses of dominance, with the goal of understanding how intent can be relevant to the assignment of liability for anticompetitive algorithmic outcomes. The role of subjective intent in EU antitrust analysis remains controversial. Some argue that evidence of intent is an invaluable tool in the antitrust arsenal, allowing agencies and litigants to address anticompetitive conduct where facts are ambiguous or evidence of harm to competition inconclusive. Others warn against relying on intent. First, ‘sales talks’ encouraging employees to beat – and indeed eliminate – competitors is common and merely indicative of a (competitively desirable) aggressive business strategy. Secondly, banning any exhortation to compete aggressively would encourage firms to deploy more subtle forms of inducement when engaged in anticompetitive conduct, while favouring those with the resources to develop such strategies. The law seems to follow a middle path in this debate, suggesting that the notion of subjective…

Peter Georg Picht and Gaspare Tazio Loderer on ‘Framing Algorithms: Competition Law and (Other) Regulatory Tools’ (2019) World Competition 42(3) 391

Algorithmic market conduct, and intervene where algorithms risk distorting competition. In effect, the collusive potential of algorithms and algorithm-driven resale pricing have already been the subject of enforcement. However, it is still not clear whether competition law has, in its present form, the necessary tools and techniques adequately to control algorithms. This article, available here, looks at what other areas of the law, which are more advanced in this respect, can teach competition law. Its second section looks at how financial markets regulation and data protection law deal with algorithm-based market activity. Financial markets were among the first to deploy algorithms broadly and intensely. As a result, financial market regulation developed a comparatively detailed set of rules on algorithmic trading early on. European data protection law is another area that already has in place certain elements of a legal framework for algorithmic (market) activity. This includes the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the ePrivacy Regulation. These two regulatory regimes share…

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…

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…

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…

Cani Fernández ‘Presumptions and Burden of Proof in EU Competition Law: The Intel Judgment’ (2019) Journal of European Competition Law & Practice 10(7)

Some of the procedural tools used by competition authorities and courts (in particular, presumptions) present an inherent link to the burden of proof and to the rightful exercise of the rights of the defence. In principle, the use of presumptions can be an efficient response to the enforcement of competition policy both in situations where a given behaviour usually amounts to an infringement or where it is competitively innocuous. In any rule of law system, presumptions of illegality must be rebuttable. Indeed, a resort to presumptions not surrounded by proper procedural guarantees may infringe the presumption of innocence and undertakings’ rights of defence. The Intel judgment provides a good opportunity to discuss the role of presumptions under Article 102 TFEU and their implications for the burden of proof. In addition to this, this article, available here, analyses how defendants in exclusivity rebate cases can rebut the presumption of illegality in practice, with a special focus on the efficiency defence. It does so…