In an interview on 9 April 2015, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager indicated that companies who control personal data could come under increased scrutiny from European antitrust authorities. She recognises that considerable sums of money can now be made by companies holding large data sets, commonly known as Big Data, by using the data to create competitive advantage, and plans to put these companies under greater inspection.
Big Data, whether provided by users or collected from users’ online behaviour, can be analysed and used to help the company differentiate itself by personalising customer services and implementing effective targeted advertising. The more users an online platform is able to attract, the greater potential there is for sales, and the more attractive the platform becomes for advertisers. With the increasing ability to use Big Data for commercial gain, its value as a commodity continues to grow; and as Vestager put it, ‘Big Data is the next currency of the Internet’.
Companies that collect Big Data are already scrutinised in the UK, and the Financial Conduct Authority is currently examining whether the use of Big Data creates barriers to insurance products and services. However, as it stands, EU authorities and regulators have no ability to take pre-emptive action to prevent market conditions developing that could be detrimental to data protection. Vestager is hoping to change this and introduce an EU merger control framework that provides authorities and regulators with a chance to review and deal with potential Big Data competition issues before they arise, to prevent the creation of monopolies over data. An interaction between data protection and competition policy will be required if this is to be successful.
The statement only predated by a week, today’s antitrust Statement of Objections issued to Google on the favourable treatment of its comparison shopping service being an abuse of Google’s dominant position as an Internet search provider.