The second half of 2020 is promising to be a decisive time. The lock-downs in many countries have accelerated the digital transformation. And regulators are beginning with what promises to become a profound upgrade of regulation for digital services.
There are several work streams to watch in the EU. All point to a stricter approach to the large digital platforms:
Some high profile merger cases are pushing regulators to establish new ways to assess how control over consumer attention and data lead to market power. There is growing concern that a few global digital platforms and ecosystems have become gate keepers that control routes to increasing parts of the market. Google/Fitbit in the EU is a key case to watch, and Amazon/Deliveroo should soon shed light on the approach in the UK.
Europe's General Court is expected to issue the first decision in the Google dominance cases (shopping). This case is about how a platform can use the eyeballs that it controls to its own benefit and to the detriment of its rivals/consumers.
And the Commission is launching a sector inquiry into the Internet of Things. This is about assessing how new connected devices are shaping markets and can contribute to monopolizing data and attention. Sector inquiries often lead to new legislation and enforcement action to tackle the risks that they identify. The last one on e-commerce is a good illustration.
While their limits are still tested in cases, work to expand these tools through new legislation is already under way:
A Digital Services Act may set the rules for digital services for the years to come. It aims to address foreclosure by gate keepers and other market imbalances.
Within this framework, a New Competition Tool may address structural competition problems, and in particular markets that risk "tipping", for example because network effects lead to monopolization.
A consultation on the Market Definition Notice will channel the discussion on assessing market power of multi-sided platforms and on markets where services are provided for free.
The time of academic reports and studies seems to be behind us. Europe is getting serious about stricter rules. And this is only what is going on at EU level. Member States have their own pending cases and are adapting their laws for stricter enforcement.
If Google acquires consumers' data generated by the use of Fitbit wearables, including now COVID-19 related data, it would be able to use that data for its own benefit and could undermine the ability of other companies to bring new products to consumers