European Antitrust Chief Eyeing Tech Giants’ Hold On Data

The European Union’s competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, has fired a warning shot about the competition risks posed by dominant tech platforms that harvest vast amounts of personal data, suggesting big data operators such as Google might in future be considered in breach of the region’s competition rules based on their data holdings.

Vestager was giving a speech at the DLD conference in Munich yesterday. The WSJ reports her saying: “If a few companies control the data you need to cut costs, then you give them the power to drive others out of the market…  If a company’s use of data is so bad for competition that it outweighs the benefits, we may have to step in to restore a level playing field.”

“We continue to look carefully at this issue,” she added.

Last February, Vestager told the newspaper that big data is an area she wanted to “thoroughly” analyze and debate, to fully understand the “possible consequences” — although she described it as working “very much as a currency on the Net right now”.

She continued that line of thought in her DLD speech, describing the handing over of personal data by users of free services as “a business transaction”, and adding that consumer “need to be treated fairly”.

Google is already the subject of multiple EU competition investigations, with Vestager redoubling a long standing probe of a Google price comparison service last April, and also taking a formal closer look at Android.

While her big data comments aren’t going to please any tech giants whose business models are based on amassing large amounts of personal data, there’s no explicit regulatory risk yet — merely a reminder that Vestager is interested in the power of big data platforms to dominant markets based on the personal information they are able to amass on users.

On Sunday, she said the EC would look to differentiate between different types of data, and also look at how data is acquired — and why some companies are able to acquire more useful data than their rivals, wondering in her speech why companies could not collect the same data from their own customers, or even buy it from a data analytics company.

At the same time as its competition chief is eyeing up big data, Europe agreed stringent new data protection rules at the back end of last year — which include a provision for fines of up to 4 per cent of a company’s global turnover for privacy breaches.