Antitrust Enforcement and Privacy Standards

By Renato Nazzini (King’s College London)

The current prominence of digital platforms that compete for customers’ attention by offering them free services and generate revenue by monetising the data obtained from customers on different markets, for example on online advertising markets, has brought to the forefront of the antitrust debate the question as to whether privacy standards are a parameter of antitrust enforcement. This paper asks what role, if any, the standard of privacy protection offered by online platforms to consumers plays in antitrust enforcement.

In the author’s view, the answer to this question is that privacy standards are relevant to competition analysis as qualitative parameters of competition and can, and should, play a role in the assessment of mergers, agreements and unilateral conduct. When a breach of the data protection rules is either a form of exercise of market power or an element of an exclusionary strategy, competition law can and should intervene. But, as data protection issues become more and more prominent in digital markets, care should be exercised not to blur the line between competition policy and data protection. This would weaken both competition and data protection enforcement, which should instead work in tandem to achieve their common, ultimate objective of maximising societal welfare based on a democratically shared set of values, including a high standard of data protection.

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