The Role of Competition Law in Regulating Data in China’s Digital Economy

By Wendy Ng (University of Melbourne)

As the digital economy has grown and data has become a more valuable and critical resource, the collection, use, and sharing of data by companies have come under increasingly intense regulatory scrutiny. The relevance and appropriateness of antitrust and competition laws to deal with data, particularly in the context of the digital economy, are being examined and considered by antitrust and competition regulators and governments around the world. Similar discussions and issues are also becoming prominent in China. Not only has China been developing an increasingly sophisticated legal regime to regulate and enable the state to exercise control over data, it has also clearly tightened and increased regulatory scrutiny and control over Internet and technology companies. In particular, competition law has played a conspicuous role in China’s regulatory campaign to clamp down on the Internet and technology sector.

This article examines whether and how China’s competition laws might apply to regulate the data and data practices of Internet and technology companies. It does so by undertaking a political economy and contextual exploration of China’s data regulatory environment and its relationship and interaction with China’s competition laws. The nature of China’s political economy, as well as of its competition laws, means that a variety of interests, goals, and priorities – which might encompass concerns that other jurisdictions might regard as being beyond the purview of competition law – are considered and balanced in the enforcement of competition law, under the macroeconomic supervision and guidance of the state.

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