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…

Wolfgang Kerber ‘Data Sharing In IoT (Internet of Things’) Ecosystems And Competition Law: The Example Of Connected Cars’ (2019) Journal of Competition Law & Economics (forthcoming)

In Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystems, one firm often has exclusive control over the data produced by a smart device, as well as of the technical means of access to this device. Such a gatekeeper position can empower firms to eliminate competition for aftermarket and other complementary services in these ecosystems. This paper, available here, analyses whether competition law can help address problems concerning access to data and interoperability in this context, by reference to connected vehicles. In short, it argues that, while competition offers some solutions to these data access problems, on its own it is insufficient to fully address these problems. As such, additional solutions such as data portability requirements, data access rights or sector-specific regulation might also be needed. Section II provides a brief overview of the economics of digital ecosystems and of data interoperability. Data tends to be non-rivalrous in use. It follows that data should be used as much as possible to maximise its value….

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…

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)…

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…

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…

Reuben Binns and Elettra Bietti ‘Acquisitions in the Third-Party Tracking Industry’

This working paper, which can be found here , draws attention to one particularly complicated kind of digital data intensive industry: third party tracking, in which a firm does not (only or primarily) collect and process personal data of its own customers or users, but focuses instead on collecting data of users of other ‘first party’ services. The authors focus on mergers and acquisitions of third-party tracking firms because they raise some unique challenges which are often missed in regulatory decisions and academic discussions of data and market concentration. The paper is structured as follows: Section 1 contains a brief overview of the technical elements of third party tracking and of the business practices associated with it. This description is somewhat long because it provides a good overview of these business practices; you may want to skip it if you are familiar with them. ‘Tracking’ refers to a range of data collection and processing practices which aim to collate the behaviours…

Marco Botta and Klaus Wiedemann ‘EU Competition Law Enforcement vis-à-vis Exploitative Conducts in the Data Economy’ Max Planck Institute for Innovation & Competition Research Paper No. 18-08

This long paper (90 pages), which can be found here, seeks to understand how traditional principles of EU law – particularly those related to exploitative abuses and respective remedies – apply to new business models that mainly rely on processing large amounts of users’ data. The analysis does not extend to the US because, following Trinko, the authors consider that antitrust law there does not extend to exploitative practices, even if the FTC has powers under the Sherman Act to pursue such practices under consumer and unfair practices law. I am afraid the review is rather long, because this paper’s contents are the equivalent of multiple articles. The paper is structured as follows: Section 2 provides an overview of European case law vis-à-vis exploitative abuses. Art. 102 TFEU lists a number of exploitative abuses. Nevertheless, the European Commission has long focused on investigating exclusionary, rather than exploitative abuses. While this has led to limited case law on exploitative abuses, the authors identify…