Companies should be required to give competitors access to their data, a European Commission competition policy official has argued. 

European Commission competition policy officer Cyril Ritter, speaking today at a Bird & Bird conference in Brussels, said that there is a “good case” for mandatory data access under competition law.

Ritter said that companies that have access to large datasets can sometimes generate value from the data in a way that can put companies that don’t have access at a competitive disadvantage.

He added that policymakers that attempt to equalise access to data must take three groups into account: data holders, companies requesting access to data, and data subjects. Each have different rights, which would influence potential regulation, he said.

A policy that required Google to transfer data to a competitor, for instance, would force the company to move personal data to a new controller, which would have data protection implications, he said.

There have been attempts at improving data access, both in courts and legislatures, Ritter said. The Microsoft/LinkedIn case looked closely at the acquisition of data, while “soft” regulation such as the Free Flow of Data Regulation attempts to improve data access.

Ritter also cited “hard” rules such as updated versions of the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive and the Payment Services Directive, both of which require incumbents to share some information with newer companies.

Ritter argued that a combination of competition law and regulation is preferable to one or the other in governing data access.

Anne Federle, partner at Bird & Bird in Brussels, speaking on the same panel, said there are already examples of this combined approach: a combination of rules force car manufacturers to provide technical information to independent repair shops, for instance.

But she also warned that under competition rules, companies may struggle to obtain access to data that does not belong to competitors. Insurance companies looking to obtain data generated by connected vehicles may not be able to rely on competition law to obtain this information, for instance, she said.

Some competition enforcement of data has already begun. The German competition authority recently penalised Facebook’s data practices and prohibited the company from merging personal user data from Facebook-owned services or third parties without specific user consent.

The conference ended today.

This article was originally published on Global Data Review, the leading online platform that reports on and analyses the fast-moving area of data law. Subscribe now.