Big Data Attracts Antitrust Attention

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The European Union is taking a closer look at how big companies such as Google and Facebook are collecting customer data and whether these practices represent a breach of antitrust rules. While no competition issues have been found in this area, the EU's Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, said at the Digital Life Design conference in Munich that the EU will continue to look carefully at the matter.

The European Union is taking a closer look at how big companies such as Google and Facebook are collecting customer data and whether these practices represent a breach of antitrust rules. While no competition issues have been found in this area, the EU's Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, said at the Digital Life Design conference in Munich that the EU will continue to look carefully at the matter.One of Vestager's concerns is that if just a handful of companies control customer data, this could provide those companies the power to drive their rivals out of the market. The issue arose following Google's 2007 acquisition of DoubleClick and Facebook's purchase of WhatsApp two years ago. According to Vestager, there was no serious cause for concern in those two cases since other companies still had access to multiple sources of data.

The collection and use of Big Data on consumers will only continue to grow as the Internet of Things continues to expand and generate additional data, ranging from data generated by fitness trackers to connected appliances. By 2020, more than half of major new business processes are expected to incorporate some element of IoT, according to a recent report by Gartner.

According to The Wall St. Journal, lawyers representing U.S. technology firms have previously stated that competition concerns over customer data are unsound. Their argument is that the data isn't exclusive since many companies are able to gather information about consumers' names, addresses, and credit-card data.

Vestager said the EU plans to publish a preliminary report in mid-2016 as to whether Internet commerce companies such as Amazon are found to be violating antitrust regulations by restricting cross-border trade.

The EU and other regulatory bodies may have a tough time proving that a small number of companies are controlling consumer data and are preventing other companies from entering or competing in markets. Big Data on consumers is ubiquitous and can be acquired from third parties. Of course, if a merger or acquisition between two large companies that collect and distribute customer data were to raise competitive concerns, that would be a different matter.

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