The Common Understanding of G7 Competition Authorities on “Competition and the Digital Economy”

While adopted on 5 June, this communique was embargoed until yesterday. It can now be found here. As it says on the tin, this document reflects the common position that the competition authorities in the G7 countries (namely, the Autoritá Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (Italy), the Autorité de la Concurrence (France), the Bundeskartellamt (Germany), the Competition Bureau (Canada), the Competition and Markets Authority (United Kingdom), the Department of Justice (United States of America), the Directorate General for Competition (European Commission), the Federal Trade Commission (United States of America) and the Japan Fair Trade Commission (Japan)) have reached on the digital economy. It may come as no surprise that the level of agreement is relatively thin, and that the document does not go into the most controversial topics addressed in the reports reviewed last week and further below. The common understanding begins with the mandatory section on the benefits of the digital economy. Investment and innovation in the digital…

UK CMA’s Digital Market Strategy

The CMA’s Digital Market Strategy, available here, could be said to be a reaction to the Furman Report reviewed last week,  even if the official reaction took the form of a shorter and earlier letter to Government which can be found here. The paper begins by describing why digital markets are different and how the CMA sees its role in their respect. The underlying features of digital markets include substantial network effects, economies of scale and scope, the role of data and the computing power to use it, scope for personalisation, and market concentration. Most of these are not new individually, but in combination they are novel. Combined with the pace of change, it can be hard for both consumers and public authorities to keep up. Some of these features, or their effects, raise questions, including: firms’ use of people’s data; the market power or ‘gatekeeper’ status of certain platforms; use of increasingly sophisticated technology to target advertising; or the risk of so-called ‘killer acquisitions’. The…

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…

UK Furman Report – Unlocking digital competition, Report of the Digital Competition Expert Panel,

This Report, which can be found here, follows a review ordered by the UK’s Treasury to make recommendations on changes to competition and pro-competition policy to help unlock the opportunities of the digital economy. The report’s recommendations build on a number of propositions, namely that: the digital economy is creating substantial benefits; that a number of digital markets are prone to tipping and being ‘winner-takes-all’; market concentration in these markets both creates benefits and incurs costs; but government policy and regulation have limitations. In the light of this, the report found that the standard tools of competition policy, evaluating whether mergers can proceed and whether antitrust action is warranted to remedy abuses by companies, could play a role in helping to promote competition and the associated better outcomes for consumers and innovation. To do so, competition policy will need to be updated to address the novel challenges posed by the digital economy. Some of these updates can happen within current powers,…

Stigler Center (University of Chicago) Report on Digital Platforms

This Report, which can be found here, was written by a working group who came together to address specific problems arising from the digital platforms’ reach, scale, scope, and use of data. They examined concerns stemming from the market structure contemporary platforms have created, and to investigate their competitive behaviour, including the consequences of network effects that can create barriers to entry for new innovators and entrench incumbents. The theme that runs throughout the report is the difficulty of entry into digital platform businesses once an incumbent is established. Whether the entrant is vertical or horizontal, has succeeded to some degree, is nascent, is a potential entrant, or is a large platform in an adjacent space, market entry improves consumer welfare by either providing more choice, different features, and a chance of higher quality, or creating a threat that spurs the incumbent to provide lower prices, higher quality and innovation, and to do so more quickly. The Report is structured…

European Parliament Report on ‘Competition issues in the Area of Financial Technology (FinTech)’

This Report, which can be found here,  provides an interesting overview of potential competition issues in this sphere, while acknowledging ‘the discussion about the competition problems is still hypothetical‘. Even as I am unable to summarise the (136 pages) Report, it is worthwhile emphasising that the authors believe that the application of competition law to potential anticompetitive behaviours in the FinTech sector faces several challenges, the most relevant being the difficulty in applying existing tools and methodologies to new market phenomena such as: (i) many providers operating in multi-sided markets, with concomitant difficulties in terms of market definition and identifying market power; (ii) the possibility of network effects operating as barriers to entry, together with restrictions on interoperability and the adoption of standards; (iii) the role that access to data can have in restricting competition. As far as it goes, these observations are in line with widespread concerns about digital platforms more generally – and with the recent report on the…

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…

Ariel Ezrachi on ‘EU Competition Law Goals and The Digital Economy’ (2018) Report for BEUC – The European Consumer Organisation

This paper  can be found here. I have already reviewed it in an earlier post. At the time, I focused on the article’s overview of the goals of EU competition law. However, the article also contained a detailed discussion of the impact that the digital economy may have on these goals. I was unable to review this discussion then, so I propose to do it here. Competition policy is one of several instruments used to advance the goals of the European Treaties. According to the European Commission, competition on the market is protected as a means of enhancing consumer welfare and of ensuring an efficient allocation of resources. This notwithstanding, EU competition law has also consistently been held to protect ‘not only the interests of competitors or of consumers, but also the structure of the market and, in so doing, competition as such.’ Moreover, a genuinely indigenous objective is worthy of note, namely that of promoting European market integration. In addition…

Nicolas Petit ‘Technology Giants, the Moligopoly Hypothesis and Holistic Competition’

The gist of the argument in this paper – which can be found here – is intriguing, and plausible: tech giants do not compete within itemized relevant markets where they are monopolists. Instead, they are conglomerates that compete three-dimensionally as oligopolists across industries, which is what the author meant by a moligopoly. This blindness of antitrust to competition across markets is likely to lead to mistakes, and should be rectified. The paper is structured as follows: Section I sets out the moligopoly hypothesis and tests it by reference to empirical data. The author begins by reviewing how the competition law literature’s default position is to characterise the tech giants as dominant firms. Competition law focuses on one industry segment – i.e. a “relevant market” – where the investigated tech giants often enjoy unassailable clout, and where substitution by actual or potential rivals is unlikely. For example, Google’s competitive stronghold is search, Apple’s core is its unique ecosystem, Facebook’s moat is…