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Against the ‘Europeanization’ of California’s Antitrust Law

Regulatory Comments We are grateful for the opportunity to respond to the California Law Revision Commission’s Study of Antitrust Law with these comments on the Single-Firm Conduct . . .

We are grateful for the opportunity to respond to the California Law Revision Commission’s Study of Antitrust Law with these comments on the Single-Firm Conduct Working Group’s report (the “Expert Report”).[1]

The International Center for Law & Economics (ICLE) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan global research and policy center based in Portland, Oregon. ICLE was founded with the goal of building the intellectual foundations for sensible, economically grounded policy. ICLE promotes the use of law & economics methodologies to inform public-policy debates, and has longstanding expertise in the evaluation of competition law and policy. ICLE’s interest is to ensure that competition law remains grounded in clear rules, established precedents, a record of evidence, and sound economic analysis.[2]

I. Introduction

The urge to treat antitrust as a legal Swiss Army knife—capable of correcting all manner of economic and social ills—is difficult to resist. Conflating size with market power, and market power with political power, recent calls for regulation of large businesses are often framed in antitrust terms, although they rarely are rooted in cognizable legal claims or sound economic analysis.

But precisely because antitrust is such a powerful regulatory tool, we should be cautious about its scope, process, and economics, as well as its politicization. For the last 50 or so years, U.S. law has maintained a position of relative restraint in the face of novel, ambiguous conduct, while many other jurisdictions (particularly the European Union) have tended to read uncertainty as the outward expression of a lurking threat. This has led to a sharp policy divergence in the area of competition policy, with the EU passing the Digital Markets Act,[3] while the United States has, to date, continued to rely on tried-and-tested principles crafted by courts over years on a case-by-case basis.

Despite—or perhaps because of—this divergence, many advocates of more aggressive antitrust intervention assert that the United States or individual states should emulate the EU’s approach. This disposition underpins much of the California Law Review Commission’s Report on Single Firm Conduct.[4] Despite some reassuring conclusions—such as the recognition that “protecting competing businesses, even at the expense of consumers and workers” would not “provide a good model for California”[5]—the policies that the report proposes would significantly broaden California antitrust law, bringing it much closer to the European model of competition enforcement than the U.S. one.

Unfortunately, this European-inspired approach to competition policy is unlikely to serve the interests of California consumers. As explained below, the European model of competition enforcement has at least three features that tend to chill efficient business conduct, with few competitive benefits in return (relative to the U.S. approach).

A. ‘Precautionary Principle’ vs Error-Cost Framework

Differentiating pro- from anticompetitive conduct has always been the central challenge of antitrust. When the very same conduct can either benefit or harm consumers, depending on complex and often unknowable circumstances, the potential cost of overenforcement is at least as substantial as the cost of underenforcement.

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that the cost of “false positive” errors might be greater than those attributable to “false negatives” because, in the words of Judge Frank Easterbrook, “the economic system corrects monopoly more readily than it corrects judicial errors.”[6] The EU’s “precautionary principle” approach is the antithesis of this. It is rooted in a belief that markets are generally unlikely to function well, and certainly are not better at mitigating harm than technocratic regulatory intervention.

The key question is whether, given the limits of knowledge and the errors that such limits may engender, consumers are better off with a more discretionary regime or one in which enforcement is limited to causes of action that policymakers are fairly certain will serve consumer interests. This is a question about changes at the margin, but it is far from marginal in its significance. As we explain below, the U.S. approach to antitrust law performs better in this respect. Departing from it would not benefit California consumers.

B. Presumptions vs Effects-Based Analysis

EU antitrust rests heavily on presumptions of harm, while U.S. courts require plaintiffs to demonstrate that the conduct at-issue actually has anticompetitive effects.

Crucially, the U.S. approach is more consistent with learnings from modern economics, which almost universally counsel against presuming competitive harm on the basis of industry structure and, in particular, in favor of presuming benefit from vertical conduct. Indeed, the EU approach often disregards these findings and presumes the contrary. As evidenced by its recent Intel decision, even the EU’s highest court has finally recognized the paucity of the European Commission’s analysis in this area. But because judicial review of antitrust decisions in the EU is so attenuated, it is not clear if the high court’s admonition will actually affect the Commission’s approach in any substantial way.

California policymakers would be wrong to emulate the European model by introducing more presumptions to California antitrust law.

C. Extraction of Rents vs Extension of Monopoly

U.S. monopolization law prohibits only predatory or exclusionary conduct that results in harm to consumers. The EU, by contrast, also regularly punishes the mere possession of monopoly power, even where lawfully obtained. Indeed, the EU goes so far as to target companies that may lack monopoly power, but merely possess an innovative and successful business model. For example, in actions involving companies ranging from soda manufacturers to digital platforms, the EU repeatedly has required essential-facilities-style access to companies’ private property for less-successful rivals.

As we explain below, the Expert Report essentially calls on California lawmakers to replicate the European model by seeking to protect even those competitors that are less efficient, thus challenging the very existence of legitimately earned monopolies. Unfortunately, this approach would diminish the incentives to create successful businesses in the first place. Such an outcome would be particularly unfortunate for California, which is host to arguably the most vibrant startup ecosystem in the world.

D. The Danger of the European Approach

In endorsing the European approach to antitrust in order to justify high-profile cases against large firms, California would effectively be prioritizing political expediency over the rule of law and consumer well-being.

The risk of an EU-like approach in California is that it would thwart technological progress and enshrine mediocrity. This is particularly true in the digital economy, where innovative practices with positive welfare effects—such as building efficient networks or improving products and services as technologies and consumer preferences evolve—are often the subject of demagoguery, especially from inefficient firms looking for a regulatory leg up.

While advocates for a more European approach to antitrust assert that their proposals would improve economic conditions in California (and the United States, more generally), economic logic and the available evidence suggest otherwise, especially in technology markets.

Once antitrust is expanded beyond its economic constraints, it ceases to be a uniquely valuable tool to address real economic harms to consumers, and becomes instead a tool for evading legislative and judicial constraints. This is hardly the promotion of democratic ideals that proponents of a more EU-like regime claim to desire.

In the following sections, we expand upon these distinctions between EU and U.S. law and explain how elements of the Expert Report’s analysis and proposed statutory language would shift California’s antitrust law toward the EU model in problematic ways. We urge the California Law Revision Commission to consider not just whether emulating the EU approach would permit the state to reach a preconceived outcome—i.e., placing large firms under increased antitrust scrutiny—but whether doing so would ultimately benefit California and its consumers.

II. The EU ‘Precautionary Principle’ Approach vs the US Error-Cost Framework

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized the limitations that courts face in distinguishing between pro- and anticompetitive conduct in antitrust cases, and particularly the risk this creates of reaching costly false-positive (Type I) decisions in monopolization cases.[7] As the Court has noted with respect to the expansion of liability for single-firm conduct, in particular:

Against the slight benefits of antitrust intervention here, we must weigh a realistic assessment of its costs…. Mistaken inferences and the resulting false condemnations “are especially costly because they chill the very conduct the antitrust laws are designed to protect.” The cost of false positives counsels against an undue expansion of § 2 liability.[8]

The Court has also expressed the view—originally laid out in Judge Frank Easterbrook’s seminal article “The Limits of Antitrust”—that the costs to consumers arising from Type I errors are likely greater than those attributable to Type II errors, because “the economic system corrects monopoly more readily than it corrects judicial errors.”[9]

The EU’s more “precautionary” approach to antitrust policy is the antithesis of this.[10] It is rooted in a belief that markets do not—or, more charitably, are unlikely to—function well in general, and certainly not sufficiently to self-correct in the face of monopolization.

While the precautionary principle may generally prevent certain fat-tailed negative events,[11] these potential benefits come, almost by definition, at the expense of short-term growth.[12] Adopting a precautionary approach is thus a costly policy stance in those circumstances where it is not clearly warranted by underlying risk and uncertainty. This is an essential issue for a state like California, whose economy is so reliant on the continued growth and innovation of its vibrant startup ecosystem.

While it is impossible to connect broad macroeconomic trends conclusively to specific policy decisions, it does seem clear that Europe’s overarching precautionary approach to economic regulation has not served it well.[13] In that environment, the EU’s economic performance has fallen significantly behind that of the United States.[14] “[I]n 2010 US GDP per capita was 47 percent larger than the EU while in 2021 this gap increased to 82 percent. If the current trend of GDP per capita carries forward, in 2035, the average GDP per capita in the US will be $96,000 while the average EU GDP per capita will be $60,000.”[15]

Of course, no one believes that markets are perfect, or that antitrust enforcement can never be appropriate. The question is the marginal, comparative one: Given the realities of politics, economics, the limits of knowledge, and the errors to which they can lead, which imperfect response is preferable at the margin? Or, phrased slightly differently, should we give California antitrust enforcers and private plaintiffs more room to operate, or should we continue to cabin their operation in careful, economically grounded ways, aimed squarely at optimizing—not minimizing—the extent of antitrust enforcement?

This may be a question about changes at the margin, but it is far from marginal. It goes to the heart of the market’s role in the modern economy.

While there are many views on this subject, arguments that markets have failed us in ways that more antitrust would correct are poorly supported.[16] We should certainly continue to look for conditions where market failures of one kind or another may justify intervention, but we should not make policy on the basis of mere speculation. And we should certainly not do so without considering the likelihood and costs of regulatory failure, as well. In order to reliably adopt a sound antitrust policy that might improve upon the status quo (which has evolved over a century of judicial decisions, generally alongside the field’s copious advances in economic understanding), we need much better information about the functioning of markets and the consequences of regulatory changes than is currently available.

To achieve this, antitrust law and enforcement policy should, above all, continue to adhere to the error-cost framework, which informs antitrust decision making by considering the relative costs of mistaken intervention compared with mistaken nonintervention.[17] Specific cases should be addressed as they come, with an implicit understanding that, especially in digital markets, precious few generalizable presumptions can be inferred from the previous case. The overall stance should be one of restraint, reflecting the state of our knowledge.[18] We may well be able to identify anticompetitive harms in certain cases, and when we do, we should enforce the current laws. But we should not overestimate our ability to finetune market outcomes without causing more harm than benefit.

Allegations that the modern antitrust regime is insufficient take as a given that there is something wrong with antitrust doctrine or its enforcement, and cast about for policy “corrections.” The common flaw with these arguments is that they are not grounded in robust empirical or theoretical support. Indeed, as one of the influential papers that (ironically) is sometimes cited to support claims for more antitrust puts it:

An alternative perspective on the rise of [large firms and increased concentration] is that they reflect a diminution of competition, due to weaker U.S. antitrust enforcement. Our findings on the similarity of trends in the United States and Europe, where antitrust authorities have acted more aggressively on large firms, combined with the fact that the concentrating sectors appear to be growing more productive and innovative, suggests that this is unlikely to be the primary explanation, although it may be important in some industries.[19]

Rather, such claims are little more than hunches that something must be wrong, conscripted to serve a presumptively interventionist agenda. Because they are merely hypotheses about things that could go wrong, they do not determine—and rarely even ask—if heightened antitrust scrutiny and increased antitrust enforcement are actually called for in the first place. The evidence strongly contradicts the basis for these hunches.

Critics of U.S. competition policy sometimes contend that markets have become more concentrated and thus less competitive.[20] But there are good reasons to be skeptical of the national-concentration and market-power data.[21] Even more importantly, the narrative that purports to find a causal relationship between these data and reduced competition is almost certainly incorrect.

Competition rarely takes place in national markets; it takes place in local markets. Recent empirical work demonstrates that national measures of concentration do not reflect market structures at the local level.[22] To the extent that national-level firm concentration may be growing, these trends are actually driving increased competition and decreased concentration at the local level, which is typically what matters for consumers:

Put another way, large firms have materially contributed to the observed decline in local concentration. Among industries with diverging trends, large firms have become bigger but the associated geographic expansion of these firms, through the opening of more plants in new local markets, has lowered local concentration thus suggesting increased local competition.[23]

The rise in national concentration is predominantly a function of more efficient firms competing in more—and more localized—markets. Thus, rising national concentration, where it is observed, is a result of increased productivity and competition that weed out less-efficient producers. Indeed, as one influential paper notes:

[C]oncentration increases do not correlate to price hikes and correspond to increased output. This implies that oligopolies are related to an offsetting and positive force—these oligopolies are likely due to technical innovation or scale economies. My data suggest that increases in market concentration are strongly correlated with innovations in productivity.[24]

Another important paper finds that this dynamic is driven by top firms bringing productivity increases to smaller markets, to the substantial (and previously unmeasured) benefit of consumers:

US firms in service industries increasingly operate in more local markets. Employment, sales, and spending on fixed costs have increased rapidly in these industries. These changes have favored top firms, leading to increasing national concentration. Top firms in service industries have grown by expanding into new local markets, predominantly small and mid-sized US cities. Market concentration at the local level has decreased in all US cities, particularly in cities that were initially small. These facts are consistent with the availability of new fixed-cost-intensive technologies that yield lower marginal costs in service sectors. The entry of top service firms into new local markets has led to substantial unmeasured productivity growth, particularly in small markets.[25]

Similar results hold for labor-market effects. According to one recent study, while the labor-market power of firms appears to have increased:

labor market power has not contributed to the declining labor share. Despite the backdrop of stable national concentration, we… find that [local labor-market concentration] has declined over the last 35 years. Most local labor markets are more competitive than they were in the 1970s.[26]

In short, it is inappropriate to draw conclusions about the strength of competition and the efficacy of antitrust laws from national-concentration measures. This is a view shared by many economists from across the political spectrum. Indeed, one of the Expert Report’s authors, Carl Shapiro, has raised these concerns regarding the national-concentration data:

[S]imply as a matter of measurement, the Economic Census data that are being used to measure trends in concentration do not allow one to measure concentration in relevant antitrust markets, i.e., for the products and locations over which competition actually occurs. As a result, it is far from clear that the reported changes in concentration over time are informative regarding changes in competition over time.[27]

It appears that overall competition is increasing, not decreasing, whether it is accompanied by an increase in national concentration or not.

A. The Expert Report’s Treatment of Error Costs

Implicitly shunning the evidence that demonstrates markets have become more, not less, competitive, the Expert Report proposes that California adopt a firm stance in favor of false positives over false negatives—in other words, that it tolerate erroneously condemning procompetitive behavior in exchange for avoiding the risk of erroneously accepting anticompetitive conduct:

Whereas the policy of California is that the public is best served by competition and the goal of the California antitrust laws is to promote and protect competition throughout the State, in interpreting this Section courts should bear in mind that the policy of California is that the risk of under-enforcement of the antitrust laws is greater than the risk of over-enforcement.[28]

Of course, it is possible that, in some markets, there are harms being missed and for which enforcers should be better equipped. But advocates of reform have yet to adequately explain much of what we need to know to make such a determination, let alone craft the right approach to it if we did. Antitrust law should be refined based on an empirical demonstration of harms, as well as a careful weighing of those harms against the losses to social welfare that would arise if procompetitive conduct were deterred alongside anticompetitive conduct.

Dramatic new statutes to undo decades of antitrust jurisprudence or reallocate burdens of proof with the stroke of a pen are unjustified. Suggesting, as the Expert Report does, that antitrust law should simply “err on the side of enforcement when the effect of the conduct at issue on competition is uncertain”[29] is an unsupported statement of a political preference, not one rooted in sound economics or evidence.

The primary evidence adduced to support the claim that underenforcement (and thus, the risk of Type II errors) is more significant than overenforcement (and thus, the risk of Type I errors) is that there are not enough cases brought and won. But even if superficially true, this is, on its own, just as consistent with a belief that the regime is functioning well as it is with a belief that it is functioning poorly. Indeed, as one of the Expert Report’s authors has pointed out:

Antitrust law [] has a widespread effect on business conduct throughout the economy. Its principal value is found, not in the big litigated cases, but in the multitude of anticompetitive actions that do not occur because they are deterred by the antitrust laws, and in the multitude of efficiency-enhancing actions that are not deterred by an overbroad or ambiguous antitrust.[30]

At the same time, some critics (including another of the Expert Report’s authors) contend that a heightened concern for Type I errors stems from a faulty concern that “type two errors… are not really problematic because the market itself will correct the situation,” instead asserting that “it is economically naïve to assume that markets will naturally tend toward competition.”[31]

Judge Easterbrook’s famous argument for enforcement restraint is not based on the assertion that markets are perfectly self-correcting. Rather, his claim is that the (undeniable) incentive of new entrants to compete for excess profits in monopolized markets operates to limit the social costs of Type II errors more effectively than the legal system’s ability to correct or ameliorate the costs of Type I errors. The logic is quite simple, and not dependent on the strawman notion that markets are perfect:

If the court errs by condemning a beneficial practice, the benefits may be lost for good. Any other firm that uses the condemned practice faces sanctions in the name of stare decisis, no matter the benefits. If the court errs by permitting a deleterious practice, though, the welfare loss decreases over time. Monopoly is self-destructive. Monopoly prices eventually attract entry. True, this long run may be a long time coming, with loss to society in the interim. The central purpose of antitrust is to speed up the arrival of the long run. But this should not obscure the point: judicial errors that tolerate baleful practices are self-correcting while erroneous condemnations are not.[32]

Moreover, anticompetitive conduct that is erroneously excused may be subsequently corrected, either by another enforcer, a private litigant, or another jurisdiction. Ongoing anticompetitive behavior will tend to arouse someone’s ire: competitors, potential competitors, customers, input suppliers. That means such behavior will be noticed and potentially brought to the attention of enforcers. And for the same reason—identifiable harm—it may also be actionable.

By contrast, procompetitive conduct that does not occur because it is prohibited or deterred by legal action has no constituency and no visible evidence on which to base a case for revision. Nor does a firm improperly deterred from procompetitive conduct have any standing to sue the government for erroneous antitrust enforcement, or the courts for adopting an improper standard. Of course, overenforcement can sometimes be corrected, but the institutional impediments to doing so are formidable.

The claim that concern for Type I errors is overblown further rests on the assertion that “more up-to-date economic analysis” has undermined that position.[33] But that learning is, for the most part, entirely theoretical—constrained to “possibility theorems” divorced from realistic complications and the real institutional settings of decision making. Indeed, the proliferation of these theories may actually increase, rather than decrease, uncertainty by further complicating the analysis and asking generalist judges to choose from among competing theories, without any realistic means to do so.[34]

Unsurprisingly, “[f]or over thirty years, the economics profession has produced numerous models of rational predation. Despite these models and some case evidence consistent with episodes of predation, little of this Post-Chicago School learning has been incorporated into antitrust law.”[35] Nor is it likely that the courts are making an erroneous calculation in the abstract. Evidence of Type I errors is hard to come by, but for a wide swath of conduct called into question by “Post-Chicago School” and other theories, the evidence of systematic problems is virtually nonexistent.[36]

Moreover, contrary to the Expert Report’s implications,[37] U.S. antitrust law has not ignored potentially anticompetitive harm, and courts are hardly blindly deferential to conduct undertaken by large firms. It is impossible to infer from the general “state of the world” or from perceived “wrong” judicial decisions that the current antitrust regime has failed or that California, in particular, would benefit from a wholesale shifting of its antitrust error-cost presumptions.[38]

III. The Reliance on Presumptions vs the Demonstration of Anticompetitive Effects

While U.S. antitrust law generally requires a full-blown, effects-based analysis of challenged behavior—particularly in the context of unilateral conduct (monopolization or abuse of dominance) and vertical restraints—the EU continues to rely heavily on presumptions of harm or extremely truncated analysis. Even the EU’s highest court has finally recognized the paucity of the European Commission’s analysis in this area in its recent Intel decision.[39]

The degree to which the United States and EU differ with respect to their reliance on presumptions in antitrust cases is emblematic of a broader tendency of the U.S. regime to adhere to economic principles, while the EU tends to hold such principles in relative disregard. The U.S. approach is consistent with learnings from modern economics, which almost universally counsel against presuming competitive harm on the basis of industry structure—particularly from the extent of concentration in a market. Indeed, as one of the Expert Report’s own authors has argued, “there is no well-defined ‘causal effect of concentration on price,’ but rather a set of hypotheses that can explain observed correlations of the joint outcomes of price, measured markups, market share, and concentration.”[40]

Concerns about excessive concentration are at the forefront of current efforts to expand antitrust enforcement, including through the use of presumptions. There is no reliable empirical support for claims either that concentration has been increasing, or that it necessarily leads to, or has led to, increased market power and the economic harms associated with it.[41] There is even less support for claims that concentration leads to the range of social ills ascribed to it by advocates of “populist” antitrust. Similarly, there is little evidence that the application of antitrust or related regulation to more vigorously prohibit, shrink, or break up large companies will correct these asserted problems.

Meanwhile, economic theory, empirical evidence, and experience all teach that vertical restraints—several of which would be treated more harshly under the Expert Report’s recommendations[42]—rarely harm competition. Indeed, they often benefit consumers by reducing costs, better distributing risk, better informing and optimizing R&D activities and innovation, better aligning manufacturer and distributor incentives, lowering price, increasing demand through the inducement of more promotional services, and/or creating more efficient distribution channels.

As the former Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Bureau of Economics Director Francine Lafontaine explained in summarizing the body of economic evidence analyzing vertical restraints: “it appears that when manufacturers choose to impose [vertical] restraints, not only do they make themselves better off but they also typically allow consumers to benefit from higher quality products and better service provision.”[43] A host of other studies corroborate this assessment.[44] As one of these notes, while “some studies find evidence consistent with both pro- and anticompetitive effects… virtually no studies can claim to have identified instances where vertical practices were likely to have harmed competition.”[45] Similarly, “in most of the empirical studies reviewed, vertical practices are found to have significant pro-competitive effects.”[46]

At the very least, we remain profoundly uncertain of the effects of vertical conduct (particularly in the context of modern high-tech and platform industries), with the proviso that most of what we know suggests that this conduct is good for consumers. But even that worst-case version of our state of knowledge is inconsistent with the presumptions-based approach taken by the EU.

Adopting a presumptions-based approach without a firm economic basis is far more hostile to novel business conduct, especially in the innovative markets that distinguish California’s economy. EU competition policy errs on the side of condemning novel conduct, deterring beneficial business activities where consumers would be better served if authorities instead tried to better understand them. This is not something California should emulate.

A. The Expert Report’s Quantification of Anticompetitive Harm and Causation

European competition law imposes a much less strenuous burden on authorities to quantify anticompetitive harm and establish causation than does U.S. law. This makes European competition law much more prone to false positives that condemn efficiency-generating or innovative firm behavior. The main cause of these false positives is the failure of the EU’s “competitive process” standard to separate competitive from anticompetitive exclusionary conduct.

While the Expert Report rightly recognizes that adopting an abuse-of-dominance standard (similar to that which exists in Europe) would be misguided, its proposed focus on “competitive constraints,” rather than consumer welfare, would effectively bring California antitrust enforcement much closer to the EU model.[47]

At the same time, the Expert Report counsels adopting a “material-risk-of-harm” standard, which is foreign to U.S. antitrust law:

(e) Anticompetitive exclusionary conduct includes conduct that has or had a material risk of harming trading partners due to increased market power, even if those harms have not yet arisen and may not materialize.[48]

While such a standard exists in U.S. standing jurisprudence,[49] antitrust plaintiffs (and private plaintiffs, in particular) must typically meet a higher bar to prove actual antitrust injury.[50] Moreover, the focus is generally on output restriction, rather than the risk of “harm” to a trading partner:

The government must show conduct that reasonably seems capable of causing reduced output and increased prices by excluding a rival. The private plaintiff must additionally show an actual effect producing an injury in order to support a damages action or individually threatened harm to support an injunction. The required private effect could be either a higher price which it paid, or lost profits from market exclusion.[51]

Again, this is a fairly concrete application of the error-cost framework: Lowering the standard of proof required to establish liability increases the risk of false positives and decreases the risk of false negatives. But particularly in California—where so much of the state’s economic success is built on industries characterized by large companies with substantial procompetitive economies of scale and network effects, novel business models, and immense technological innovation—the risk of erroneous condemnation is substantial, and the potential costs significant.

Further, defining antitrust harm in terms of “conduct [that] tends to… diminish or create a meaningful risk of diminishing the competitive constraints imposed by the defendant’s rivals”[52] opens the door substantially to the risk that procompetitive conduct could be enjoined. For example, such an approach would seem at odds with the concept of antitrust injury for private plaintiffs established by the Supreme Court’s Brunswick case.[53] “Competitive constraints” may “tend” to be reduced, as in Brunswick, by perfectly procompetitive conduct; enshrining such a standard would not serve California’s economic interests.

Similarly, the Expert Report’s proposed statutory language includes a provision that would infer not only causation but also the existence of harm from ambiguous conduct:

5) In cases where the trading partners are customers…, it is not necessary for the plaintiff to specify the precise nature of the harm that might be experienced in the future or to quantify with specificity any particular past harm. It is sufficient for the plaintiff to establish a significant weakening of the competitive constraints facing the defendant, from which such harms to direct or indirect customers can be presumed.[54]

The Microsoft case similarly held that plaintiffs need not quantify injury with specificity because “neither plaintiffs nor the court can confidently reconstruct a product’s hypothetical technological development in a world absent the defendant’s exclusionary conduct.”[55] But Microsoft permits the inference only of causation in such circumstances, not the existence of anticompetitive conduct. Most of the decision was directed toward identifying and assessing the anticompetitiveness of the alleged conduct. Inference is permitted only with respect to causation—to the determination that such conduct was reasonably likely to lead to harm by excluding specific (potential) competitors. Establishing merely a “weakening of the competitive constraints facing the defendant,” by contrast, does not permit an inference of anticompetitiveness.

Such an approach is much closer to the European standard of maintaining a system of “undistorted competition.” European authorities generally operate under the assumption that “competitive” market structures ultimately lead to better outcomes for consumers.[56] This contrasts with American antitrust enforcement which, by pursuing a strict consumer-welfare goal, systematically looks at the actual impact of a practice on economic parameters, such as prices and output.

In other words, European competition enforcement assumes that concentrated market structures likely lead to poor outcomes and thus sanctions them, whereas U.S. antitrust law looks systematically into the actual effects of a practice. The main consequence of this distinction is that, compared to the United states, European competition law has established a wider set of per se prohibitions (which are not discussed in the Expert Report) and sets a lower bar for plaintiffs to establish the existence of anticompetitive conduct (which the Expert Report recommends California policymakers emulate).[57] Because of this lower evidentiary threshold, EU competition decisions are also subject to less-stringent judicial review.

The EU’s competitive-process standard is similar to the structuralist analysis that was popular in the United States through the middle of the 20th century. This view of antitrust led U.S. enforcers frequently to condemn firms merely for growing larger than some arbitrary threshold, even when those firms engaged in conduct that, on net, benefited consumers. While EU enforcers often claim to be pursuing a consumer-welfare standard, and to adhere to rigorous economic analysis in their antitrust cases,[58] much of their actual practice tends to engage in little more than a window-dressed version of the outmoded structuralist analysis that U.S. scholars, courts, and enforcers roundly rejected in the latter half of the 20th century.

To take one important example, a fairly uncontroversial requirement for antitrust intervention is that a condemned practice should actually—or be substantially likely to—foster anticompetitive harm. Even in Europe, whatever other goals competition law is presumed to further, it is nominally aimed at protecting competition rather than competitors.[59] Accordingly, the mere exit of competitors from the market should be insufficient to support liability under European competition law in the absence of certain accompanying factors.[60] And yet, by pursuing a competitive-process goal, European competition authorities regularly conflate desirable and undesirable forms of exclusion precisely on the basis of their effect on competitors.

As a result, the Commission routinely sanctions exclusion that stems from an incumbent’s superior efficiency rather than from welfare-reducing strategic behavior,[61] and routinely protects inefficient competitors that would otherwise rightly be excluded from a market. As Pablo Ibanez Colomo puts it:

It is arguably more convincing to question whether the principle whereby dominant firms are under a general duty not to discriminate is in line with the logic and purpose of competition rules. The corollary to the idea that it is prima facie abusive to place rivals at a disadvantage is that competition must take place, as a rule, on a level playing field. It cannot be disputed that remedial action under EU competition law will in some instances lead to such an outcome.[62]

Unfortunately, the Expert Report’s repeated focus on diminished “competitive constraints” as the touchstone for harm may (perhaps unintentionally) even enable courts to impose liability for harm to competitors caused by procompetitive conduct. For example, the Expert Report would permit a determination that:

[C]onduct tends to… diminish or create a meaningful risk of diminishing the competitive constraints… [if it] tends to (i) increase barriers to entry or expansion by those rivals, (ii) cause rivals to lower their quality-adjusted output or raise their quality-adjusted price, or (iii) reduce rivals’ incentives to compete against the defendant.[63]

But market exit is surely an example of a reduced incentive to compete, even if it results from a rival’s intense (and consumer-welfare-enhancing) competition. Depending on how “barrier to entry” is defined, innovation, product improvement, and vertical integration by a defendant—even when they are procompetitive—all could constitute a barrier to entry by forcing rivals to incur greater costs or compete in multiple markets. Similarly, increased productivity resulting in less demand for labor or other inputs or lower wages could enable a “defendant [to] profitably make a less attractive offer to that supplier or worker… than the defendant could absent that conduct,”[64] even though the increase in market power in that case would be beneficial.[65]

It is true that the Expert Report elsewhere notes that “it is sometimes difficult for courts to distinguish between anticompetitive exclusionary conduct, which is illegal, from competition on the merits, which is legal even if it weakens rivals or drives them out of business altogether.”[66] Thus, it is perhaps unintentional that the report’s proposed language could nevertheless support liability in such circumstances. At the very least, California should not adopt the Expert Report’s proposed language without a clear disclaimer that liability will never be based on “diminished competitive constraints” resulting from consumer-welfare-enhancing conduct or vigorous competition by the defendant.

IV. Penalizing the Existence of Monopolies vs Prohibiting Only the Extension of Monopoly Power

While U.S. monopolization law prohibits only predatory or exclusionary conduct that results in both the unlawful acquisition or maintenance of monopoly power and the creation of net harm to consumers, the EU also punishes the mere exercise of monopoly power—that is, the charging of allegedly “excessive” prices by dominant firms (or the use of “exploitative” business terms). Thus, the EU is willing to punish the mere extraction of rents by a lawfully obtained dominant firm, while the United States punishes only the unlawful extension of market power.

There may be multiple reasons for this difference, including the EU’s particular history with state-sponsored monopolies and its unique efforts to integrate its internal market. Whatever the reason, the U.S. approach, unlike the EU’s, is grounded in a concern for minimizing error costs—not in order to protect monopolists or large companies, but to protect the consumers who benefit from more dynamic markets, more investment, and more innovation:

The mere possession of monopoly power, and the concomitant charging of monopoly prices, is not only not unlawful; it is an important element of the free-market system. The opportunity to charge monopoly prices—at least for a short period is what attracts “business acumen” in the first place; it induces risk taking that produces innovation and economic growth. To safeguard the incentive to innovate, the possession of monopoly power will not be found unlawful unless it is accompanied by an element of anticompetitive conduct.[67]

At the same time, the U.S. approach mitigates the serious risk of simply getting it wrong. This is incredibly likely where, for example, “excessive” prices are in the eye of the beholder and are extremely difficult to ascertain econometrically.

This unfortunate feature of EU competition enforcement would likely be, at least in part, replicated under the reforms proposed by the Expert Report. Indeed, the report’s focus on the welfare of “trading partners”—and particularly its focus on trading-partner welfare, regardless of whether perceived harm is passed on to consumers—comes dangerously close to the EU’s preoccupation with reducing the rents captured by monopolists.[68] While the Expert Report does not recommend an “excessive pricing” theory of harm—like the one that exists in the EU—it does echo the EU’s fixation on the immediate fortunes of trading partners (other than consumers) in ways that may ultimately lead to qualitatively equivalent results.

V. The Emulation of European Competition Law in the Expert Report’s Treatment of Specific Practices and Theories of Harm

Beyond the high-level differences discussed above, European and U.S. antitrust authorities also diverge significantly on numerous specific issues. These dissimilarities often result from the different policy goals that animate these two bodies of law. As noted, where U.S. case law is guided by an overarching goal of maximizing consumer welfare (notably, a practice’s effect on output), European competition law tends to favor structural presumptions and places a much heavier emphasis on distributional considerations. In addition, where the U.S. approach to many of these specific issues is deeply influenced by its overwhelming concern with the potentially chilling effects of intervention, this apprehension is very much foreign to European competition law. The result is often widely divergent approaches to complex economic matters in which the United States hews far more closely than does the EU to the humility and restraint suggested by economic learning.

Unfortunately, the recommendations put forward in the Expert Report would largely bring California antitrust law in line with the European approach for many theories of harm. Indeed, the Expert Report rejects the traditional U.S. antitrust-law concern with chilling procompetitive behavior, even proposing statutory language that would hold that “courts should bear in mind that the policy of California is that the risk of under-enforcement of the antitrust laws is greater than the risk of over-enforcement.”[69] Not only is this position unsupported, but it also entails an explicit rejection of a century of U.S. antitrust jurisprudence:

[U]sing language that mimics the Sherman Act would come with a potentially severe disadvantage: California state courts might then believe that they should apply 130 years of federal jurisprudence to cases brought under California state law. In recent decades, that jurisprudence has substantially narrowed the scope of the Sherman Act, as described above, so relying on it could well rob California law of the power it needs to protect competition.[70]

The evidence suggesting that competition has been poorly protected under Sherman Act jurisprudence is generally weak and unconvincing,[71] however, and the same is true for the specific theories of harm that the Expert Report would expand.

A. Predatory Pricing

Predatory pricing is one area where the Expert Report urges policymakers to copy specific rules in force in the EU. In its model statutory language, the Expert Report proposes that California establish that:

liability [for anticompetitive exclusionary conduct] does not require finding… that any price of the defendant for a product or service was below any measure of the costs to the defendant for providing the product or service…, [or] that in a claim of predatory pricing, the defendant is likely to recoup the losses it sustains from below-cost pricing of the products or services at issue[.][72]

U.S. antitrust law subjects allegations of predatory pricing to two strict conditions: 1) monopolists must charge prices that are below some measure of their incremental costs; and 2) there must be a realistic prospect that they will be able to recoup these first-period losses.[73] In laying out its approach to predatory pricing, the Supreme Court identified the risk of false positives and the clear cost of such errors to consumers. It therefore particularly stressed the importance of the recoupment requirement because, without recoupment, “predatory pricing produces lower aggregate prices in the market, and consumer welfare is enhanced.”[74]

Accordingly, in the United States, authorities must prove that there are constraints that prevent rival firms from entering the market after the predation scheme or that the scheme itself would effectively foreclose rivals from entering in the first place.[75] Otherwise, competitors would undercut the predator as soon as it attempts to charge supracompetitive prices to recoup its losses. In such a situation—without, that is, the strong likelihood of recouping the lost revenue from underpricing—the overwhelming weight of economic learning (to say nothing of simple logic) makes clear that predatory pricing is not a rational business strategy.[76] Thus, apparent cases of predatory pricing in the absence of the likelihood of recoupment are most likely not, in fact, predatory, and deterring or punishing them would likely actually harm consumers.

In contrast, the legal standard applied to predatory pricing in the EU is much laxer and almost certain, as a result, to risk injuring consumers. Authorities must prove only that a company has charged a price below its average variable cost, in which case its behavior is presumed to be predatory.[77] Even when a firm imposes prices that are between average variable and average total cost, it can be found guilty of predatory pricing if authorities show that its behavior was part of “a plan to eliminate competition.”[78] Most significantly, in neither case is it necessary for authorities to show that the scheme would allow the monopolist to recoup its losses.[79]

[I]t does not follow from the case-law of the Court that proof of the possibility of recoupment of losses suffered by the application, by an undertaking in a dominant position, of prices lower than a certain level of costs constitutes a necessary precondition to establishing that such a pricing policy is abusive.[80]

By affirmatively dispensing with each of these limitations, the Expert Report effectively recommends that California legislators shift California predatory-pricing law toward the European model. Unfortunately, such a standard has no basis in economic theory or evidence—not even in the “strategic” economic theory that arguably challenges the dominant, “Chicago School” understanding of predatory pricing.[81] Indeed, strategic predatory pricing still requires some form of recoupment and the refutation of any convincing business justification offered in response.[82] As Bruce Kobayashi and Tim Muris emphasize, the introduction of new possibility theorems, particularly uncorroborated by rigorous empirical reinforcement, does not necessarily alter the implementation of the error-cost analysis:

While the Post-Chicago School literature on predatory pricing may suggest that rational predatory pricing is theoretically possible, such theories do not show that predatory pricing is a more compelling explanation than the alternative hypothesis of competition on the merits. Because of this literature’s focus on theoretical possibility theorems, little evidence exists regarding the empirical relevance of these theories. Absent specific evidence regarding the plausibility of these theories, the courts… properly ignore such theories.[83]

The case of predatory pricing illustrates a crucial distinction between European and American competition law. The recoupment requirement embodied in U.S. antitrust law essentially differentiates aggressive pricing behavior that improves consumer welfare by leading to overall price decreases from predatory pricing that reduces welfare due to ultimately higher prices. In other words, it is entirely focused on consumer welfare.

The European approach, by contrast, reflects structuralist considerations that are far removed from a concern for consumer welfare. Its underlying fear is that dominant companies could, through aggressive pricing—even to the benefit of consumers—by their very success, engender more concentrated market structures. It is simply presumed that these less-atomistic markets are invariably detrimental to consumers. Both the Tetra Pak and France Télécom cases offer clear illustrations of the European Court of Justice’s reasoning on this point:

[I]t would not be appropriate, in the circumstances of the present case, to require in addition proof that Tetra Pak had a realistic chance of recouping its losses. It must be possible to penalize predatory pricing whenever there is a risk that competitors will be eliminated… The aim pursued, which is to maintain undistorted competition, rules out waiting until such a strategy leads to the actual elimination of competitors.[84]

Similarly:

[T]he lack of any possibility of recoupment of losses is not sufficient to prevent the undertaking concerned reinforcing its dominant position, in particular, following the withdrawal from the market of one or a number of its competitors, so that the degree of competition existing on the market, already weakened precisely because of the presence of the undertaking concerned, is further reduced and customers suffer loss as a result of the limitation of the choices available to them.[85]

In short, the European approach leaves much less room for analysis of a pricing scheme’s concrete effects, making it much more prone to false positives than the Brooke Group standard in the United States. It ignores not only the benefits that consumers may derive from lower prices, but also the chilling effect that broad predatory-pricing standards may exert on firms that attempt to attract consumers with aggressive pricing schemes. There is no basis for enshrining such an approach in California law.

B. Refusals to Deal

Refusals to deal are another area where the Expert Report’s recommendations would bring California antitrust rules more in line with the EU model. The Expert Report proposes in its example statutory language that:

[L]iability… does not require finding (i) that the unilateral conduct of the defendant altered or terminated a prior course of dealing between the defendant and a person subject to the exclusionary conduct; [or] (ii) that the defendant treated persons subject to the exclusionary conduct differently than the defendant treated other persons[.][86]

The Expert Report further highlights “Discrimination Against Rivals, for example by refusing to provide rivals of the defendant access to a platform or product or service that the defendant provides to other third-parties” as a particular area of concern.[87]

U.S. and EU antitrust laws are hugely different when it comes to refusals to deal. While the United States has imposed strenuous limits on enforcement authorities or rivals seeking to bring such cases, EU competition law sets a far lower threshold for liability. The U.S. approach is firmly rooted in the error-cost framework and, in particular, the conclusion that avoiding Type I (false-positive) errors is more important than avoiding Type II (false-negative) errors. As the Supreme Court held in Trinko:

[Enforced sharing] may lessen the incentive for the monopolist, the rival, or both to invest in those economically beneficial facilities. Enforced sharing also requires antitrust courts to act as central planners, identifying the proper price, quantity, and other terms of dealing—a role for which they are ill suited.[88]

In that case, the Court was unwilling to extend the reach of Section 2, cabining it to a very narrow set of circumstances:

Aspen Skiing is at or near the outer boundary of §2 liability. The Court there found significance in the defendant’s decision to cease participation in a cooperative venture. The unilateral termination of a voluntary (and thus presumably profitable) course of dealing suggested a willingness to forsake short-term profits to achieve an anticompetitive end.[89]

This highlights two key features of American antitrust law concerning refusals to deal. To start, U.S. antitrust law generally does not apply the “essential facilities” doctrine—indeed, as the Court held in Trinko, “we have never recognized such a doctrine.”[90] Accordingly, in the absence of exceptional facts, upstream monopolists are rarely required to supply their product to downstream rivals, even if that supply is “essential” for effective competition in the downstream market.

Moreover, as the Court observed in Trinko, the Aspen Skiing case appears to concern only those limited instances where a firm’s refusal to deal stems from the termination of a preexisting and profitable business relationship.[91] While even this is not likely to be the economically appropriate limitation on liability,[92] its impetus—ensuring that liability is found only in situations where procompetitive explanations for the challenged conduct are extremely unlikely—is appropriate for a regime concerned with minimizing the cost to consumers of erroneous enforcement decisions.

As in most areas of antitrust policy, EU competition law is much more interventionist. Refusals to deal are a central theme of EU enforcement efforts, and there is a relatively low threshold for liability.[93] In theory, for a refusal to deal to infringe EU competition law, it must meet a set of fairly stringent conditions: the input must be indispensable, the refusal must eliminate all competition in the downstream market, and there must not be objective reasons that justify the refusal.[94] Moreover, if the refusal to deal involves intellectual property, it must also prevent the appearance of a new good.[95] In practice, however, all of these conditions have been significantly relaxed by EU courts and the Commission’s decisional practice. This is best evidenced by the lower court’s Microsoft ruling. As John Vickers notes:

[T]he Court found easily in favor of the Commission on the IMS Health criteria, which it interpreted surprisingly elastically, and without relying on the special factors emphasized by the Commission. For example, to meet the “new product” condition it was unnecessary to identify a particular new product… thwarted by the refusal to supply but sufficient merely to show limitation of technical development in terms of less incentive for competitors to innovate.[96]

Thus, EU competition law is far less concerned about its potential chilling effect on firms’ investments than is U.S. antitrust law.

The Expert Report’s wording suggests that its authors would like to see California’s antitrust rules in this area move towards the European model. This seems particularly misguided for a state that so heavily relies on continued investments in innovation.

In discussing its concerns with the state of refusal-to-deal law in the United States, the Expert Report notes that:

[E]ven a monopolist can normally choose the parties with which it will deal and [] a monopolist’s selective refusal to deal with another firm, even a competitor, violates antitrust law only in unusual circumstances…. [The Court] explained that courts are ill-equipped to determine the terms on which one firm should be required to deal with another, so a bright line is necessary to preserve the incentives of both the monopolist and the competitor to compete aggressively in the marketplace. Such a rule may have been reasonable in a setting where “dealing” often meant incurring a large fixed cost to coordinate with the other firm. In an economy containing digital “ecosystems” that connect many businesses to one another, and digital markets with standardized terms of interconnection, such as established application program interfaces (APIs), that rule may immunize much conduct that could be anticompetitive.[97]

This approach is unduly focused on the welfare of specific competitors, rather than the effects on competition and consumers. Indeed, in the Aspen Skiing case (which did find a duty to deal on the defendant’s part), the Supreme Court is clear that the assessment of harm to competitors would be insufficient to establish that a refusal to deal was anticompetitive: “The question whether Ski Co.’s conduct may properly be characterized as exclusionary cannot be answered by simply considering its effect on Highlands. In addition, it is relevant to consider its impact on consumers and whether it has impaired competition in an unnecessarily restrictive way.”[98]

The Expert Report’s additional proposal that liability should not turn on whether the defendant treated particular parties differently in exercising exclusionary conduct (including refusal to deal)[99] is a further move away from effects-based analysis and toward the European model. As Einer Elhauge has noted, there is an important distinction between unconditional and discriminatory exclusionary conduct:

Efforts to simply improve a firm’s own efficiency and win sales by selling a better or cheaper product at above-cost prices should enjoy per se legality without any general requirement to share that greater efficiency with rivals. But exclusionary conditions that discriminate on the basis of rivalry by selectively denying property or products to rivals (or buyers who deal with rivals) are not necessary to further ex ante incentives to enhance the monopolist’s efficiency, and should be illegal when they create a marketwide foreclosure that impairs rival efficiency.[100]

By arguing to impose liability regardless of whether conduct is exercised in a discriminatory fashion, the Expert Report would remove the general protection under U.S. antitrust law for unconditional refusals to deal, and would instead apply the conditional standard to all exclusionary conduct.

It seems quite likely, in fact, that this provision is proposed as a rebuke to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ holding in FTC v. Qualcomm, which found no duty to deal, in part, because the challenged conduct was applied to all rivals equally.[101] At least three of the Expert Report’s authors are on record as vigorously opposing the holding in Qualcomm.[102] But far from supporting a challenge to Qualcomm’s conduct on the grounds that it harmed competition by targeting threatening rivals, the Expert Report authors’ apparent preferred approach to Qualcomm’s alleged refusal to deal was to attempt to force a wholesale change in Qualcomm’s vertically integrated business model.

In other words, the authors would find liability regardless of how Qualcomm enforces its license terms, and would prefer a legal standard that does not condition that finding on exclusionary conduct against only certain rivals. In essence, they see operating at all in the relevant market as a harm.[103] Whatever the merits of this argument in the Qualcomm case, it should not be generalized to undermine the sensible limits that U.S. antitrust has imposed on the refusal-to-deal theory of harm.

C. Vertical and Platform Restraints

Finally, the Expert Report would take a leaf out of the European book when it comes to vertical restraints, including rebates, exclusive dealing, “most favored nation” (MFN) clauses, and platform conduct. Here, again, the Expert Report singles these practices out for attention:

Loyalty Rebates, which penalize a customer that conducts more business with the defendant’s rivals, as opposed to volume discounts, which are generally procompetitive;

Exclusive Dealing Provisions, which disrupt the ability of counterparties to deal with the defendant’s rivals, especially if such provisions are widely used by the defendant;

Most-Favored Nation Clauses, which prohibit counterparties from dealing with the defendant’s rivals on more favorable terms and conditions than those on which they deal with the defendant, especially if such clauses are widely used by the defendant.[104]

There are vast differences between U.S. and EU competition law with respect to vertical restraints. On the one hand, since the Supreme Court’s Leegin ruling, even price-related vertical restraints (such as resale price maintenance, or “RPM”) are assessed under the rule of reason in the United States.[105] Some commentators have gone so far as to say that, in practice, U.S. case law almost amounts to per se legality.[106] Conversely, EU competition law treats RPM as severely as it treats cartels. Both RPM and cartels are considered restrictions of competition “by object”—the EU’s equivalent of a per se prohibition.[107] This severe treatment also applies to nonprice vertical restraints that tend to partition the European internal market.[108] Furthermore, in the Consten and Grundig ruling, the ECJ rejected the consequentialist (and economically grounded) principle that inter-brand competition is the appropriate touchstone to assess vertical restraints:

Although competition between producers is generally more noticeable than that between distributors of products of the same make, it does not thereby follow that an agreement tending to restrict the latter kind of competition should escape the prohibition of Article 85(1) merely because it might increase the former.[109]

This especially stringent stance toward vertical restrictions flies in the face of the longstanding mainstream-economics literature addressing the subject. As Patrick Rey and Jean Tirole (hardly the most free-market of economists) saw it as long ago as 1986: “Another major contribution of the earlier literature on vertical restraints is to have shown that per se illegality of such restraints has no economic foundations.”[110]

While there is theoretical literature (rooted in so-called “possibility theorems”) that suggests firms can engage in anticompetitive vertical conduct, the empirical evidence strongly suggests that, even though firms do impose vertical restraints, it is exceedingly rare that they have net anticompetitive effects. Nor is the relative absence of such evidence for a lack of looking: countless empirical papers have investigated the competitive effects of vertical integration and vertical contractual arrangements and found predominantly procompetitive benefits or, at worst, neutral effects.[111]

Unlike in the EU, the U.S. Supreme Court in Leegin took account of the weight of the economic literature and changed its approach to RPM to ensure that the law no longer simply precluded its arguable consumer benefits: “Though each side of the debate can find sources to support its position, it suffices to say here that economics literature is replete with procompetitive justifications for a manufacturer’s use of resale price maintenance.”[112] Further, “[the prior approach to resale price maintenance restraints] hinders competition and consumer welfare because manufacturers are forced to engage in second-best alternatives and because consumers are required to shoulder the increased expense of the inferior practices.”[113]

By contrast, the EU’s continued per se treatment of RPM strongly reflects its precautionary-principle approach to antitrust, under which European regulators and courts readily condemn conduct that could conceivably injure consumers, even where such injury is, according to the best economic understanding, unlikely (at best).[114] The U.S. approach to such vertical restraints, which rests on likelihood rather than mere possibility,[115] is far less likely to erroneously condemn beneficial conduct.

There are also significant differences between the U.S. and EU stances on the issue of rebates. This reflects the EU’s relative willingness to disregard complex economics in favor of noneconomic, formalist presumptions (at least, prior to the ECJ’s Intel ruling). Whereas U.S. antitrust has predominantly moved to an effects-based assessment of rebates,[116] this is only starting to happen in the EU. Prior to the ECJ’s Intel ruling, the EU implemented an overly simplistic approach to assessing rebates by dominant firms, where so-called “fidelity” rebates were almost per se illegal.[117] Likely recognizing the problems inherent in this formalistic assessment of rebates, the ECJ’s Intel ruling moved the European case law on rebates to a more evidence-based approach, holding that:

[T]he Commission is not only required to analyse, first, the extent of the undertaking’s dominant position on the relevant market and, secondly, the share of the market covered by the challenged practice, as well as the conditions and arrangements for granting the rebates in question, their duration and their amount; it is also required to assess the possible existence of a strategy aiming to exclude competitors that are at least as efficient as the dominant undertaking from the market.[118]

As Advocate General Nils Wahl noted in his opinion in the case, only such an evidence-based approach could ensure that the challenged conduct was actually harmful:

In this section, I shall explain why an abuse of dominance is never established in the abstract: even in the case of presumptively unlawful practices, the Court has consistently examined the legal and economic context of the impugned conduct. In that sense, the assessment of the context of the conduct scrutinised constitutes a necessary corollary to determining whether an abuse of dominance has taken place. That is not surprising. The conduct scrutinised must, at the very least, be able to foreclose competitors from the market in order to fall under the prohibition laid down in Article 102 TFEU.”[119]

The Expert Report, however, contains a direct refutation of Intel, thus “out-Europing” even Europe itself in its treatment of vertical restraints:

7) Plaintiffs need not show that the rivals whose ability to compete has been reduced are as efficient, or nearly as efficient, as the defendant. Harm to competition can arise when the competitive constraints on the defendant are weakened even when those competitive constraints come from less efficient rivals. Indeed, harm to competition can be especially great when a firm that faces limited competition further weakens its rivals.[120]

If adopted, this language would significantly limit the need for California courts to show actual anticompetitive harm arising from challenged vertical conduct. Similarly, the Expert Report’s rejection of the “no-economic-sense” test—“liability…does not require finding… that the conduct of the defendant makes no economic sense apart from its tendency to harm competition”[121]—removes another mechanism to ensure that vertical restraints lead to actual consumer harm, rather than simply injury to a competitor.

As Thom Lambert persuasively demonstrates, there are imperfections with both the “as efficient competitor” test and the “no economic sense” test. But these commonly applied tools do at least help to ensure that courts undertake to find actual anticompetitive harm.[122] The rejection of both simultaneously is decidedly problematic, suggesting a preference for no serious economic constraints on courts’ discretion to condemn practices solely on the ground of structural harm—i.e., harm to certain competitors.

By contrast, the alternative definition that Lambert proposes “would deem conduct to be unreasonably exclusionary if it would exclude from the defendant’s market a ‘competitive rival,’ defined as a rival that is both as determined as the defendant and capable, at minimum efficient scale, of matching the defendant’s efficiency.”[123] While this test may appear to have some traits in common with the Expert Report’s “diminishing competitive constraints” approach, it incorporates a much more robust set of principles and limitations, designed to more clearly distinguish conduct that merely excludes from exclusions that actually cause anticompetitive harm, while minimizing administrative costs.[124] The Expert Report, by contrast, explicitly removes such limitations.

A related problem concerns the Expert Report’s proposal that “when a defendant operates a multi-sided platform business, [liability does not turn on whether] the conduct of the defendant presents harm to competition on more than one side of the multi-sided platform[.]”[125] This provision is meant to reverse the Supreme Court’s holding on platform vertical restraints in Ohio v. American Express that:

Due to indirect network effects, two-sided platforms cannot raise prices on one side without risking a feedback loop of declining demand. And the fact that two-sided platforms charge one side a price that is below or above cost reflects differences in the two sides’ demand elasticity, not market power or anticompetitive pricing. Price increases on one side of the platform likewise do not suggest anticompetitive effects without some evidence that they have increased the overall cost of the platform’s services. Thus, courts must include both sides of the platform—merchants and cardholders—when defining the credit-card market….

…For all these reasons, “[i]n two-sided transaction markets, only one market should be defined.” Any other analysis would lead to “mistaken inferences” of the kind that could “chill the very conduct the antitrust laws are designed to protect.”[126]

As Greg Werden notes, “[a]lleging the relevant market in an antitrust case does not merely identify the portion of the economy most directly affected by the challenged conduct; it identifies the competitive process alleged to be harmed.”[127] Particularly where novel conduct or novel markets are involved, and thus the relevant economic relationships are poorly understood, market definition is crucial to determine “what the nature of [the relevant] products is, how they are priced and on what terms they are sold, what levers [a firm] can use to increase its profits, and what competitive constraints affect its ability to do so.”[128] This is the approach the Supreme Court employed in Amex.

The Expert Report’s proposal to overrule Amex in California is deeply misguided. The economics of two-sided markets are such that “there is no meaningful economic relationship between benefits and costs on each side of the market considered alone…. [A]ny analysis of social welfare must account for the pricing level, the pricing structure, and the feasible alternatives for getting all sides on board.”[129] Assessing anticompetitive harm with respect to only one side of a two-sided market will arbitrarily include and exclude various sets of users and transactions, and incorrectly assess the extent and consequences of market power.[130]

Indeed, evidence of a price effect on only one side of a two-sided platform can be consistent with either neutral, anticompetitive, or procompetitive conduct.[131] Only when output is defined to incorporate the two-sidedness of the product, and where price and quality are assessed on both sides of a sufficiently interrelated two-sided platform, is it even possible to distinguish between procompetitive and anticompetitive effects. In fact, “[s]eparating the two markets allows legitimate competitive activities in the market for general purposes to be penalized no matter how output-enhancing such activities may be.”[132]

Notably, while some scholars have opposed the Amex holding that both sides of a two-sided market must be included in the relevant market in order to assess anticompetitive harm, some of these critics appear to note that the problem is not that both sides should not be taken into account at all, but only that they should not be included in the same relevant market (thus, permitting a plaintiff to make out a prima facie case by showing harm to just one side).[133] The language proposed in the Expert Report, however, would go even further, seemingly permitting a finding of liability based solely on harm to one side of a multi-sided market, regardless of countervailing effects on the other side. As in the Amex case itself, such an approach would confer benefits on certain platform business users (in Amex, retailers) at the direct expense of consumers (in Amex, literal consumers of retail goods purchased by credit card).

Adopting such an approach in California—whose economy is significantly dependent on multisided digital-platform firms, including both incumbents and startups[134]—would imperil the state’s economic prospects[135] and exacerbate the incentives for such firms to take jobs, investments, and tax dollars elsewhere.[136]

[1] Antitrust Law — Study B-750, California Law Revision Commission (last revised Apr. 26, 2024), available at http://www.clrc.ca.gov/B750.html.

[2] We welcome the opportunity to comment further or to respond to questions about our comments. Please contact us at [email protected].

[3] Regulation (EU) 2022/1925 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 September 2022 on Contestable and Fair Markets in the Digital Sector and amending Directives (EU) 2019/1937 and (EU) 2020/1828, 2022 O.J. (L 265) 1.

[4] See Aaron Edlin, Doug Melamed, Sam Miller, Fiona Scott Morton, & Carl Shapiro, Expert Report on Single Firm Conduct, 2024 Cal. L. Rev. Comm’n (hereinafter “Expert Report”), available at ExRpt-B750-Grp1.pdf.

[5] Id. at 14.

[6] Frank H. Easterbrook, The Limits of Antitrust, 63 Tex. L. Rev. 1, 15 (1984).

[7] See, especially, Pac. Bell Tel. Co. v. linkLine Commc’ns, Inc., 555 U.S. 438 (2009); Credit Suisse Sec. (U.S.A) LLC v. Billing, 551 U.S. 264, 265 (2007); Verizon Comm. v. Law Offices of Trinko, 540 U.S. 398 (2004).

[8] Trinko, 540 U.S. at 414 (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 594 (1986)).

[9] Easterbrook, supra note 6, at 7.

[10] See, e.g., Aurelien Portuese, The Rise of Precautionary Antitrust: An Illustration with the EU Google Android Decision, CPI EU News November 2019 (2019) at 4 (“The absence of demonstrated consumer harm in order to find antitrust injury is not fortuitous, but represents a fundamental alteration of antitrust enforcement, predominantly when it comes to big tech companies. Coupled with the lack of clear knowledge, a shift in the burden of proof, and the lack of a consumer harm requirement in order to find abuse of dominance all reveal the precautionary approach that the European Commission has now embraced.”).

[11] See Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Rupert Read, Raphael Douady, Joseph Norman, & Yaneer Bar-Yam, The Precautionary Principle (With Application to the Genetic Modification of Organisms), arXiv preprint arXiv:1410.5787, 2 (2014). (“The purpose of the PP is to avoid a certain class of what, in probability and insurance, is called “ruin” problems. A ruin problem is one where outcomes of risks have a non-zero probability of resulting in unrecoverable losses.”).

[12] The precautionary principles implies that policymakers should bar certain mutually advantageous transactions due to the social costs that they might impose further down the line. Moreover, the precautionary principle has historically been associated with anti-growth positions. See, e.g., Jaap C Hanekamp, Guillaume Vera?Navas, & SW Verstegen, The Historical Roots of Precautionary Thinking: The Cultural Ecological Critique and ‘The Limits to Growth’, 8 J. Risk Res. 295, 299 (2005) (“The first inklings of today’s precautionary thinking as a means of creating a sustainable society can be traced historically to ‘The Limits to Growth’…”).

[13] See, e.g., Greg Ip, Europe Regulates Its Way to Last Place, Wall St. J. (Jan. 31, 2024), https://www.wsj.com/economy/europe-regulates-its-way-to-last-place-2a03c21d. (“Of course, Europe’s economy underperforms for lots of reasons, from demographics to energy costs, not just regulation. And U.S. regulators aren’t exactly hands-off. Still, they tend to act on evidence of harm, whereas Europe’s will act on the mere possibility. This precautionary principle can throttle innovation in its cradle.”) (emphasis added).

[14] See, e.g., id.; Eric Albert, Europe Trails Behind the United States in Economic Growth, Le Monde (Nov. 1, 2023), https://www.lemonde.fr/en/economy/article/2023/11/01/europe-trails-behind-the-united-states-in-economic-growth_6218259_19.html (“For the past fifteen years, Europe has been falling further and further behind…. Since 2007, per capita growth on the other side of the Atlantic has been 19.2%, compared with 7.6% in the eurozone. A gap of almost twelve points.”).

[15] Fredrik Erixon, Oscar Guinea, & Oscar du Roy, If the EU Was a State in the United States: Comparing Economic Growth Between EU and US States, ECIPE Policy Brief No. 07/2023 (2023), available at https://ecipe.org/publications/comparing-economic-growth-between-eu-and-us-states.

[16] Among other things, the Expert Report argues that antitrust should be used to address alleged policy concerns broader than protecting competition, and should accept reductions in competition to do so. See Expert Report, supra note 1, at 2 (“Nonetheless, these important values [‘broader social and political goals’] can influence the evidentiary standards that the Legislature instructs the courts to apply when handling individual antitrust cases. For example, the California Legislature could instruct the courts to err on the side of enforcement when the effect of the conduct at issue on competition is uncertain.”). But as one of the authors of the Expert Report has himself noted elsewhere: “while antitrust enforcement has a vital role to play in keeping markets competitive, antitrust law and antitrust institutions are ill suited to directly address concerns associated with the political power of large corporations or other public policy goals such as income inequality or job creation.” Carl Shapiro, Antitrust in a Time of Populism, 61 Int’l J. Indus. Org. 714, 714 (2018) (emphasis added).

[17] See generally Easterbrook, supra note 6, at 14-15. See also Geoffrey A. Manne & Joshua D. Wright, Innovation and the Limits of Antitrust, 6 J. Comp. L. & Econ. 153 (2010).

[18] See Robert W. Crandall & Clifford Winston, Does Antitrust Policy Improve Consumer Welfare? Assessing the Evidence, 17 J. Econ. Persp. 3, 4 (2003) (“[T]he economics profession should conclude that until it can provide some hard evidence that identi?es where the antitrust authorities are signi?cantly improving consumer welfare and can explain why some enforcement actions and remedies are helpful and others are not, those authorities would be well advised to prosecute only the most egregious anticompetitive violations.”).

[19] David Autor, David Dorn, Lawrence F. Katz, Christina Patterson & John Van Reenen, The Fall of the Labor Share and the Rise of Superstar Firms, 135 Q.J. Econ. 645, 651 (2020) (citations omitted) (emphasis added).

[20] See, e.g., Thomas Philippon, The Great Reversal: How America Gave Up on Free Markets (2019); Jan De Loecker, Jan Eeckhout, & Gabriel Unger, The Rise of Market Power and the Macroeconomic Implications, 135 Q. J. Econ. 561 (2020); David Wessel, Is Lack of Competition Strangling the U.S. Economy?, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Apr. 2018), https://hbr.org/2018/03/is-lack-of-competition-strangling-the-u-s-economy; Adil Abdela & Marshall Steinbaum, The United States Has a Market Concentration Problem, Roosevelt Institute Issue Brief (2018), available at https://rooseveltinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/RI-US-market-concentration-problem-brief-201809.pdf.

[21] A number of papers simply do not find that the accepted story—built in significant part around the famous De Loecker, Eeckhout, & Unger study, id.—regarding the vast size of markups and market power is accurate. The claimed markups due to increased concentration are likely not nearly as substantial as commonly assumed. See, e.g., James Traina, Is Aggregate Market Power Increasing? Production Trends Using Financial Statements, Stigler Center Working Paper (Feb. 2018), available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3120849; see also World Economic Outlook, April 2019 Growth Slowdown, Precarious Recovery, International Monetary Fund (Apr. 2019), available at https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2019/03/28/world-economic-outlook-april-2019. Another study finds that profits have increased, but are still within their historical range. See Loukas Karabarbounis & Brent Neiman, Accounting for Factorless Income, 33 NBER Macro. Annual 167 (2019). And still another shows decreased wages in concentrated markets, but also that local concentration has been decreasing over the relevant time period, suggesting that lack of enforcement is not a problem. See Kevin Rinz, Labor Market Concentration, Earnings, and Inequality, 57 J. Hum. Resources S251 (2022).

[22] See Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, Pierre-Daniel Sarte, & Nicholas Trachter, Diverging Trends in National and Local Concentration, 35 NBER Macro. Annual 115, 116 (2020) (“[T]he observed positive trend in market concentration at the national level has been accompanied by a corresponding negative trend in average local market concentration…. The narrower the geographic definition, the faster is the decline in local concentration. This is meaningful because the relevant definition of concentration from which to infer changes in competition is, in most sectors, local and not national.”).

[23] Id. at 117 (emphasis added).

[24] Sharat Ganapati, Growing Oligopolies, Prices, Output, and Productivity, 13 Am. Econ. J. Micro. 309, 323-24 (2021) (emphasis added).

[25] Chang-Tai Hsieh & Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, The Industrial Revolution in Services, 1 J. Pol. Econ. Macro. 3, 3 (2023) (emphasis added). See also id. at 39 (“Over the past 4 decades, the US economy has experienced a new industrial revolution that has enabled ?rms to scale up production over a large number of establishments dispersed across space. The adoption of these technologies has particularly favored productive ?rms in nontraded-service industries. The industrial revolution in services has had its largest effect in smaller and mid-sized local markets…. The gain to local consumers from access to more, better, and novel varieties of local services from the entry of top ?rms into local markets is not captured by the BLS. We estimate that such ‘missing growth’ is as large as 1.6% in the smallest markets and averages 0.5% per year from 1977 to 2013 across all US cities.”) (emphasis added).

[26] David Berger, Kyle Herkenhoff & Simon Mongey, Labor Market Power, 112 Am. Econ. Rev. 1147, 1148-49 (2022).

[27] Shapiro, Antitrust in a Time of Populism, supra note 16, at 727-28.

[28] Expert Report, supra note 1, at 15 (emphasis added).

[29] Id. at 2.

[30] A. Douglas Melamed, Antitrust Law and Its Critics, 83 Antitrust L.J. 269, 285 (2020).

[31] Herbert J. Hovenkamp & Fiona Scott Morton, Framing the Chicago School of Antitrust Analysis, 168 U. Penn. L. Rev. 1843, 1870-71 (2020).

[32] Easterbrook, supra note 6, at 2-3.

[33] Hovenkamp & Scott Morton, supra note 31, at 1849.

[34] See generally Geoffrey A. Manne, Error Costs in Digital Markets, in Global Antitrust Institute Report on the Digital Economy (Joshua D. Wright & Douglas H. Ginsburg eds., 2020), available at https://gaidigitalreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Manne-Error-Costs-in-Digital-Markets.pdf.

[35] Bruce H. Kobayashi & Timothy J. Muris, Chicago, Post-Chicago, and Beyond: Time to Let Go of the 20th Century, 78 Antitrust L.J. 147, 166 (2012).

[36] See id. at 166 (“[T]here is very little empirical evidence based on in-depth industry studies that RRC is a significant antitrust problem.”); id. at 148 (“Because of [the Post-Chicago School] literature’s focus on theoretical possibility theorems, little evidence exists regarding the empirical relevance of these theories.”).

[37] See Expert Report, supra note 1, at 7 (“The history of federal antitrust enforcement of single-firm conduct illustrates that when courts are uncertain about how to assess conduct, they often find in favor of defendants even if the conduct harms competition simply because the plaintiff bears the burden of proof.”).

[38] See supra notes 19-27, and accompanying text.

[39] See Case C-413/14 P Intel v Commission, ECLI:EU:C:2017:788.

[40] See Steven Berry, Martin Gaynor, & Fiona Scott Morton, Do Increasing Markups Matter? Lessons from Empirical Industrial Organization, 33 J. Econ. Persp. 48 (2019). See also Jonathan Baker & Timothy F. Bresnahan, Economic Evidence in Antitrust: Defining Markets and Measuring Market Power in Handbook of Antitrust Economics 1 (Paolo Buccirossi ed., 2008) (“The Chicago identification argument has carried the day, and structure-conduct-performance empirical methods have largely been discarded in economics.”).

[41] See, e.g., Gregory J. Werden & Luke Froeb, Don’t Panic: A Guide to Claims of Increasing Concentration 33 Antitrust 74 (2018), https://ssrn.com/abstract=3156912, and papers cited therein. As Werden & Froeb conclude: No evidence we have uncovered substantiates a broad upward trend in the market concentration in the United States, but market concentration undoubtedly has increased significantly in some sectors, such as wireless telephony. Such increases in concentration, however, do not warrant alarm or imply a failure of antitrust. Increases in market concentration are not a concern of competition policy when concentration remains low, yet low levels of concentration are being cited by those alarmed about increasing concentration…. Id. at 78. See also Joshua D. Wright, Elyse Dorsey, Jonathan Klick, & Jan M. Rybnicek, Requiem for a Paradox: The Dubious Rise and Inevitable Fall of Hipster Antitrust, 51 Ariz. St. L.J. 293 (2019).

[42] See, e.g., Expert Report, supra note 1, at 15.

[43] Francine Lafontaine & Margaret Slade, Exclusive Contracts and Vertical Restraints: Empirical Evidence and Public Policy, in Handbook of Antitrust Economics 391 (Paolo Buccirossi ed., 2008).

[44] See, e.g., Daniel P. O’Brien, The Antitrust Treatment of Vertical Restraints: Beyond the Possibility Theorems, in The Pros and Cons of Vertical Restraints 40, 72-76 (Swedish Competition Authority, 2008) (“[Vertical restraints] are unlikely to be anticompetitive in most cases.”); James C. Cooper, et al., Vertical Antitrust Policy as a Problem of Inference, 23 Int’l J. Indus. Org. 639 (2005) (surveying the empirical literature, concluding that although “some studies find evidence consistent with both pro- and anticompetitive effects… virtually no studies can claim to have identified instances where vertical practices were likely to have harmed competition”); Benjamin Klein, Competitive Resale Price Maintenance in the Absence of Free-Riding, 76 Antitrust L.J. 431 (2009); Bruce H. Kobayashi, Does Economics Provide a Reliable Guide to Regulating Commodity Bundling by Firms? A Survey of the Economic Literature, 1 J. Comp. L. & Econ. 707 (2005).

[45] James Cooper, Luke Froeb, Daniel O’Brien, & Michael Vita, Vertical Restrictions and Antitrust Policy: What About the Evidence?, Comp. Pol’y Int’l 45 (2005).

[46] Id.

[47] Expert Report, supra note 1, at 16: (b) Conduct, whether by one or multiple actors, is deemed to be anticompetitive exclusionary conduct, if the conduct tends to (1) diminish or create a meaningful risk of diminishing the competitive constraints imposed by the defendant’s rivals and thereby increase or create a meaningful risk of increasing the defendant’s market power, and (2) does not provide sufficient benefits to prevent the defendant’s trading partners from being harmed by that increased market power.

[48] Id.

[49] See TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez, 141 S. Ct. 2190, 2210-11 (2021) (“The plaintiffs rely on language from Spokeo where the Court said that ‘the risk of real harm’ (or as the Court otherwise stated, a ‘material risk of harm’) can sometimes ‘satisfy the requirement of concreteness…. [but] in a suit for damages, the mere risk of future harm, standing alone, cannot qualify as a concrete harm—at least unless the exposure to the risk of future harm itself causes a separate concrete harm.”) (citations omitted).

[50] In essence, for uncertain future effects, U.S. antitrust law applies something like a “reasonableness” standard. See U.S. v. Microsoft Corp., 253 F.3d 34, 79 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (enjoining “conduct that is reasonably capable of contributing significantly to a defendant’s continued monopoly power”) (emphasis added). Of course, “material risk” is undefined, so perhaps it is meant to accord with this standard. If so, it should use the same language.

[51] Herbert Hovenkamp, Antitrust Harm and Causation, 99 Wash. U. L. Rev. 787, 841 (2021). See also id. at 788 (“While a showing of actual harm can be important evidence, in most cases the public authorities need not show that harm has actually occurred, but only that the challenged conduct poses an unreasonable danger that it will occur.”) (emphasis added).

[52] Expert Report, supra note 1, at 16.

[53] See Brunswick Corp. v. Pueblo Bowl-O-Mat, Inc., 429 U.S. 477, 487-88 (1977) (“If the acquisitions here were unlawful, it is because they brought a ‘deep pocket’ parent into a market of ‘pygmies.’ Yet respondents’ injury—the loss of income that would have accrued had the acquired centers gone bankrupt—bears no relationship to the size of either the acquiring company or its competitors. Respondents would have suffered the identical ‘loss’—but no compensable injury—had the acquired centers instead obtained refinancing or been purchased by ‘shallow pocket’ parents, as the Court of Appeals itself acknowledged. Thus, respondents’ injury was not of ‘the type that the statute was intended to forestall[.]’”) (citations omitted).

[54] Expert Report, supra note 1, at 17.

[55] Microsoft, 253 F.3d at 79.

[56] Treaty on European Union, Protocol (No27) on the internal market and competition, Official Journal 115.

[57] See especially Expert Report supra note 1, at 17, §§ (f)(8) & (g) through (i).

[58] See, e.g., Joaquín Almunia, Competition and Consumers: The Future of EU Competition Policy, Speech at European Competition Day, Madrid (May 12, 2010), available at http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-10-233_en.pdf (“All of us here today know very well what our ultimate objective is: Competition policy is a tool at the service of consumers. Consumer welfare is at the heart of our policy and its achievement drives our priorities and guides our decisions.”). Even then, however, it must be noted that Almunia elaborated that “[o]ur objective is to ensure that consumers enjoy the benefits of competition, a wider choice of goods, of better quality and at lower prices.” Id. (emphasis added). In fact, expanded consumer choice is not necessarily the same thing as consumer welfare, and may at times be at odds with it. See Joshua D. Wright & Douglas H. Ginsburg, The Goals of Antitrust: Welfare Trumps Choice, 81 Fordham L. Rev. 2405 (2013).

[59] See Commission Guidance on the Commission’s Enforcement Priorities in Applying Article 82 of the EC Treaty to Abusive Exclusionary Conduct by Dominant Undertakings, 2009 O. J.(C 45)7 at n. 5, §6 (“[T]he Commission is mindful that what really matters is protecting an effective competitive process and not simply protecting competitors.”).

[60] See Case C-209/10, Post Danmark A/S v Konkurrencerådet, ECLI:EU:C:2012:172, §22 (“Competition on the merits may, by definition, lead to the departure from the market or the marginalisation of competitors that are less efficient and so less attractive to consumers….”).

[61] See Pablo Ibáñez Colomo, Exclusionary Discrimination Under Article 102 TFEU, 51 Common Market L. Rev. 153 (2014).

[62] Id.

[63] Expert Report, supra note 1, at 16.

[64] Id.

[65] See Brian Albrecht, Dirk Auer, & Geoffrey A. Manne, Labor Monopsony and Antitrust Enforcement: A Cautionary Tale, ICLE White Paper No. 2024-05-01 (2024) at 21, available at https://laweconcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/05/Labor-Monopsony-Antitrust-final-.pdf (“[Conduct] that creates monopsony power will necessarily reduce the prices and quantity purchased of inputs like labor and materials. But this same effect (reduced prices and quantities for inputs) would also be observed if the [conduct] is efficiency enhancing. If there are efficiency gains, the [] entity may purchase fewer of one or more inputs than [it would otherwise]. For example, if the efficiency gain arises from the elimination of redundancies in a hospital…, the hospital will buy fewer inputs, hire fewer technicians, or purchase fewer medical supplies.”). See also Ivan Kirov & James Traina, Labor Market Power and Technological Change in US Manufacturing, conference paper for Institute for Labor Economics (Oct. 2022), at 42, available at https://conference.iza.org/conference_files/Macro_2022/traina_j33031.pdf (“The labor [markdown] therefore increases because ‘productivity’ rises, and not because pay falls. This suggests that technological change plays a large role in the rise of the labor [markdown].”).

[66] Expert Report, supra note 1, at 15 (emphasis added).

[67] Trinko, 540 U.S. at 407.

[68] See Expert Report, supra note 1, at 16 (“‘Trading partners’ are parties with which the defendant deals, either as a customer or as a supplier. In [assessing anticompetitive exclusionary conduct], a trading partner is deemed to be harmed or benefited even if that trading partner passes some or all of that harm or benefit on to other parties.”).

[69] Id. at 15 (emphasis added).

[70] Id. at 13.

[71] See supra Section II.

[72] Expert Report, supra note 1, at 17. As the Expert Report acknowledges elsewhere, recoupment is a “requirement for a predatory pricing claim under federal antitrust law.” Id. at 15.

[73] See Brooke Group Ltd. v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 509 U.S. 209, 222-27 (1993).

[74] Id. at 224.

[75] On entry deterrence, see Steven C. Salop, Strategic Entry Deterrence, 69 Am. Econ. Rev. 335 (1979).

[76] See generally John S. McGee, Predatory Pricing Revisited, 23 J.L. Econ 289 (1980). Some economists have more recently posed a “strategic” theory of predatory pricing that purports to expand substantially (and redirect) the scope of circumstances in which predatory pricing could be rational. See, e.g., Patrick Bolton, Joseph F. Brodley, & Michael H. Riordan, Predatory Pricing: Strategic Theory and Legal Policy, 88 Geo. L. J. 2239 (2000). While this and related theories have, indeed, likely expanded the theoretical scope of circumstances conducive to predatory pricing, they have not established that these conditions are remotely likely to occur. See Bruce H. Kobayashi, The Law and Economics of Predatory Pricing, in 4 Encyclopedia of Law and Economics (De Geest, ed. 2017) (“The models showing rational predation can exist and the evidence consistent with episodes of predation do not demonstrate that predation is either ubiquitous or frequent. Moreover, many of these models do not consider the welfare effects of predation, and those that do generally find the welfare effects ambiguous.”). From a legal perspective, particularly given the risk of error in discerning the difference between predatory pricing and legitimate price cutting, it is far more important to limit cases to situations likely to cause consumer harm rather than those in which harm is a remote possibility. The cost of error, of course, is the legal imposition of artificially inflated prices for consumers.

[77] Case C-62/86, AKZO v Comm’n, EU:C:1991:286, ¶¶ 71-72.

[78] Id. at ¶ 72 (“[P]rices below average total costs, that is to say, fixed costs plus variable costs, but above average variable costs, must be regarded as abusive if they are determined as part of a plan for eliminating a competitor.”).

[79] Case C-333/94 P, Tetra Pak v Comm’n, EU:C:1996:436, ¶ 44. See also, Case C-202/07 P, France Télécom v Comm’n, EU:C:2009:214, ¶ 110.

[80] Id. at ¶ 107.

[81] See, e.g., Bolton, Brodley, & Riordan, supra note 76.

[82] See id. at 2267 (“[A]nticipated recoupment is intrinsic in [strategic] theories, because without such an expectation predatory pricing is not sensible economic behavior.”). See also Kenneth G. Elzinga & David E. Mills, Predatory Pricing and Strategic Theory, 89 Geo. L.J. 2475, 2483 (2001) (“Of course, no proposed scheme of predation is credible unless it embodies a plausible means of recoupment, but this does not justify taking shortcuts in analysis. In particular, it is unwise to presume that a plausible means of recoupment exists just because facts supporting other features of a strategic theory, such as asymmetric information, are evident. Facts conducive to probable recoupment ought to be established independently.”).

[83] Kobayashi & Muris, supra note 35, at 166.

[84] Tetra Pak, supra note 79, at ¶ 44.

[85] France Télécom, supra note 79, at ¶ 112.

[86] Expert Report, supra note 1, at 17.

[87] Expert Report, supra note 1, at 15.

[88] Trinko, 540 U.S. at 408.

[89] Trinko, 540 U.S. at 409.

[90] Trinko, 540 U.S. at 411. See also Phillip Areeda, Essential Facilities: An Epithet in Need of Limiting Principles, 58 Antitrust L.J. 841 (1989).

[91] Aspen Skiing Co. v. Aspen Highlands Skiing Corp., 472 U.S. 585, 610-11 (1985).

[92] See Alan J. Meese, Property, Aspen, and Refusals to Deal, 73 Antitrust L. J. 81, 112-13 (2005).

[93] See Joined Cases 6/73 & 7/73, Instituto Chemioterapico Italiano S.p.A. and Commercial Solvents Corporation v. Comm’n, 1974 E.C.R. 223, [1974] 1 C.M.L.R. 309.

[94] See Case C-7/97, Oscar Bronner GmbH & Co. KG v Mediaprint Zeitungs, EU:C:1998:569, §41.

[95] See Case C-241/91 P, RTE and ITP v Comm’n, EU:C:1995:98, §54. See also, Case C-418/01, IMS Health, EU:C:2004:257, §37.

[96] John Vickers, Competition Policy and Property Rights, 120 Econ. J. 390 (2010).

[97] Expert Report, supra note 1, at 7.

[98] Aspen Skiing Co. v. Aspen Highlands Skiing Corp., 472 U.S. 585, 605 (1985).

[99] Expert Report, supra note 1, at 17.

[100] Einer Elhauge, Defining Better Monopolization Standards, 56 Stan. L. Rev. 253, 343 (2003).

[101] See Fed. Trade Comm’n v. Qualcomm Inc., 969 F.3d 974, 995 (9th Cir. 2020) (“Finally, unlike in Aspen Skiing, the district court found no evidence that Qualcomm singles out any specific chip supplier for anticompetitive treatment in its SEP-licensing. In Aspen Skiing, the defendant refused to sell its lift tickets to a smaller, rival ski resort even as it sold the same lift tickets to any other willing buyer (including any other ski resort)…. Qualcomm applies its OEM-level licensing policy equally with respect to all competitors in the modem chip markets and declines to enforce its patents against these rivals…. Instead, Qualcomm provides these rivals indemnifications…—the Aspen Skiing equivalent of refusing to sell a skier a lift ticket but letting them ride the chairlift anyway. Thus, while Qualcomm’s policy toward OEMs is ‘no license, no chips,’ its policy toward rival chipmakers could be characterized as ‘no license, no problem.’ Because Qualcomm applies the latter policy neutrally with respect to all competing modem chip manufacturers, the third Aspen Skiing requirement does not apply.”)

[102] Carl Shapiro was an economic expert for the FTC in the case, and Fiona Scott Morton was an economic expert for Apple in related litigation against Qualcomm. Doug Melamed was co-author of an amicus brief supporting the FTC in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (In the interests of full disclosure, we authored an amicus brief, joined by 12 scholars of law & economics, supporting Qualcomm in the 9th Circuit. See Brief of Amici Curiae International Center for Law & Economics and Scholars of Law and Economics in Support of Appellant and Reversal, FTC v. Qualcomm, No. 19-16122 (9th Cir., Aug. 30, 2019), available at https://laweconcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/ICLE-Amicus-Brief-in-FTC-v-Qualcomm-FINAL-9th-Cir-2019.pdf).

[103] For a discussion of the frailties of these arguments, see Geoffrey A. Manne & Dirk Auer, Exclusionary Pricing Without the Exclusion: Unpacking Qualcomm’s No License, No Chips Policy, Truth on the Market (Jan. 17, 2020), https://truthonthemarket.com/2020/01/17/exclusionary-pricing-without-the-exclusion-unpacking-qualcomms-no-license-no-chips-policy (“The amici are thus left with the argument that Qualcomm could structure its prices differently, so as to maximize the profits of its rivals. Why it would choose to do so, or should indeed be forced to, is a whole other matter.”). For a response by one of the Expert Report authors, see Mark A. Lemley, A. Douglas Melamed, & Steve Salop, Manne and Auer’s Defense of Qualcomm’s Licensing Policy Is Deeply Flawed, Truth on the Market (Jan. 21, 2020), https://truthonthemarket.com/2020/01/21/manne-and-auers-defense-of-qualcomms-licensing-policy-is-deeply-flawed.

[104] Expert Report, supra note 1, at 15.

[105] See Leegin Creative Leather Prods., Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., 551 U.S. 877 (2007).

[106] See, e.g., D. Daniel Sokol, The Transformation of Vertical Restraints: Per Se Illegality, The Rule of Reason, and Per Se Legality, 79 Antitrust L.J. 1003, 1004 (2014) (“[T]he shift in the antitrust rules applied to [vertical restraints] has not been from per se illegality to the rule of reason, but has been a more dramatic shift from per se illegality to presumptive legality under the rule of reason.”).

[107] See Commission Regulation (EU) No 330/2010 of 20 April 2010 on the Application of Article 101(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to Categories of Vertical Agreements and Concerted Practices, 2010 O.J. (L 102) art.4 (a).

[108] See, e.g., Case C-403/08, Football Association Premier League and Others, ECLI:EU:C:2011:631, §139. (“[A]greements which are aimed at partitioning national markets according to national borders or make the interpenetration of national markets more difficult must be regarded, in principle, as agreements whose object is to restrict competition within the meaning of Article 101(1) TFEU.”).

[109] Joined Cases-56/64 and 58/64, Consten SARL & Grundig-Verkaufs-GMBH v. Commission of the European Economic Community, ECLI:EU:C:1966:41, at 343.

[110] Patrick Rey & Jean Tirole, The Logic of Vertical Restraints, 76 Am. Econ. Rev. 921, 937 (1986) (emphasis added).

[111] These papers are collected and assessed in several literature reviews, including Lafontaine & Slade, supra note 43; O’Brien, supra note 44; Cooper et al., supra note 44; Global Antitrust Institute, Comment Letter on Federal Trade Commission’s Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century, Vertical Mergers (George Mason Law & Econ. Research Paper No. 18-27, Sep. 6, 2018). Even the reviews of such conduct that purport to be critical are only tepidly so. See, e.g., Marissa Beck & Fiona Scott Morton, Evaluating the Evidence on Vertical Mergers 59 Rev. Indus. Org. 273 (2021) (“[M]any vertical mergers are harmless or procompetitive, but that is a far weaker statement than presuming every or even most vertical mergers benefit competition regardless of market structure.”).

[112] Leegin, 551 U.S. at 889.

[113] Id. at 902.

[114] See, e.g., Lafontaine & Slade, supra note 43.

[115] See Leegin, 551 U.S. at 886-87 (holding that the per se rule should be applied “only after courts have had considerable experience with the type of restraint at issue” and “only if courts can predict with confidence that [the restraint] would be invalidated in all or almost all instances under the rule of reason” because it “‘lack[s]… any redeeming virtue’”) (citations omitted).

[116] See Bruce Kobayashi, The Economics of Loyalty Rebates and Antitrust Law in the United States, 1 Comp. Pol’y Int’l 115, 147 (2005).

[117] See, e.g., Case C-85/76, Hoffmann-La Roche & Co. AG v Commission of the European Communities, EU:C:1979:36, at 7.

[118] See Intel, supra note 39, at ¶ 139 (emphasis added).

[119] Opinion of AG Wahl in Case C-413/14 P Intel v Commission, ECLI:EU:C:2016:788, para 73.

[120] Expert Report, supra note 1, at 17.

[121] Id.

[122] See, e.g., Thomas A. Lambert, Defining Unreasonably Exclusionary Conduct: The Exclusion of a Competitive Rival Approach, 92 N.C. L. Rev. 1175, 1175 (2014) (“This Article examines the proposed definitions or tests for identifying unreasonably exclusionary conduct (including the non-universalist approach) and, finding each lacking, suggests an alternative definition.”).

[123] Id.

[124] Id. at 1244 (“Drawing lessons from past, unsuccessful attempts to define unreasonably exclusionary conduct, this Article has set forth a definition that identifies a common thread tying together all instances of unreasonable exclusion, comports with widely accepted intuitions about what constitutes improper competitive conduct, and generates specific safe harbors and liability rules that would collectively minimize the sum of antitrust’s decision and error costs.”).

[125] Expert Report, supra note 1, at 17.

[126] Ohio v. Am. Express Co., 138 S. Ct. 2274, 2286-87 (2018).

[127] Gregory J. Werden, Why (Ever) Define Markets? An Answer to Professor Kaplow, 78 Antitrust L.J. 729, 741 (2013).

[128] Geoffrey A. Manne, In Defence of the Supreme Court’s ‘Single Market’ Definition in Ohio v. American Express, 7 J. Antitrust Enforcement 104, 106 (2019).

[129] David S. Evans, The Antitrust Economics of Multi-Sided Platform Markets, 20 Yale J. Reg. 325, 355-56 (2003). See also Jean-Charles Rochet & Jean Tirole, Platform Competition in Two-Sided Markets, 1 J. Eur. Econ. Ass’n 990, 1018 (2003).

[130] See, e.g., Michal S. Gal & Daniel L. Rubinfeld, The Hidden Cost of Free Goods, 80 Antitrust L.J. 521, 557 (2016) (discussing the problematic French Competition Tribunal decision in Bottin Cartographes v. Google Inc., where “[d]isregarding the product’s two-sided market, and its cross-network effects, the court possibly prevented a welfare-increasing business strategy”).

[131] See, e.g., Brief of Amici Curiae Prof. David S Evans and Prof. Richard Schmalensee in Support of Respondents in Ohio, et al. v. American Express Co., No. 16-1454 (Sup. Ct. Jan. 23, 2018) at 21, available at https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/16/16-1454/28957/20180123154205947_16-1454%20State%20of%20Ohio%20v%20American%20Express%20Brief%20for%20Amici%20Curiae%20Professors%20in%20Support%20of%20Respondents.pdf (“The first stage of the rule of reason analysis involves determining whether the conduct is anticompetitive. The economic literature on two-sided platforms shows that there is no basis for presuming one could, as a general matter, know the answer to that question without considering both sides of the platform.”).

[132] United States, et al. v. Am. Express Co., et al., 838 F.3d 179, 198 (2nd Cir. 2016).

[133] See, e.g., Michael Katz & Jonathan Sallet, Multisided Platforms and Antitrust Enforcement, 127 Yale L.J. 2142, 2161 (2018) (“[I]t is essential to account for any significant feedback effects and possible changes in prices on both sides of a platform when assessing whether a particular firm has substantial market power.”).

[134] California earned 10% of its statewide GDP from the tech industry in 2021, and just over 9% in 2022. See SAGDP2N Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by State, Bureau of Economic Analysis (last visited May 1, 2024), https://tinyurl.com/ysaf6rfc.

[135] See Joseph Politano, California Is Losing Tech Jobs, Apricitas Economics (Apr. 14, 2024), https://www.apricitas.io/p/california-is-losing-tech-jobs (“[California’s] GDP fell 2.1% through 2022, the second-biggest drop of any state over that period, driven by a massive deceleration across the information sector. That allowed states like Texas to overtake California in the post-pandemic GDP recovery, creating a gap that California still hasn’t been able to close despite its economic rebound in 2023.”).

[136] See id. (“[T]he Golden State has been bleeding tech jobs over the last year and a half—since August 2022, California has lost 21k jobs in computer systems design & related, 15k in streaming & social networks, 11k in software publishing, and 7k in web search & related—while gaining less than 1k in computing infrastructure & data processing. Since the beginning of COVID, California has added a sum total of only 6k jobs in the tech industry—compared to roughly 570k across the rest of the United States.”).

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

ICLE Comments to the Brazilian Ministry of Finance on Competition in Digital Markets

Regulatory Comments Executive Summary We are thankful for the opportunity to submit comments to the secretariat of economic reforms of the Ministry of Finance’s Public Consultation regarding . . .

Executive Summary

We are thankful for the opportunity to submit comments to the secretariat of economic reforms of the Ministry of Finance’s Public Consultation regarding competition in digital markets. The International Center for Law & Economics (“ICLE”) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan global research and policy center founded with the goal of building the intellectual foundations for sensible, economically grounded policy. ICLE promotes the use of law & economics methodologies to inform public-policy debates and has longstanding expertise in the evaluation of competition law and policy. ICLE’s interest is to ensure that competition law remains grounded in clear rules, established precedent, a record of evidence, and sound economic analysis.

Our comments respectfully suggest careful consideration before approving any sectoral regulation of digital markets in Brazil.

Digital markets are generally dynamic, competitive, and beneficial to consumers. Those benefits derive from increased productivity and relatively cheap access to information. Whereas there are always possible competition issues and anticompetitive behavior, these are neither pervasive nor sufficiently unique to justify strict, sui generis preemptive rules. Instead, existing antitrust laws (Act No. 12,529/2011) are sufficient to address potential anticompetitive practices in digital markets. Furthermore, and as demonstrated by recent case law, the Conselho Administrativo de Defesa Econômica (CADE)—the Brazilian competition authority—has the necessary expertise to handle these cases.

There are, of course, challenges in applying antitrust laws to digital markets. For example, defining relevant markets and dominant positions in multisided platform cases, and in the fast-changing digital landscape, can be difficult. The contours of the relevant market are not always clear, and the boundaries between the digital and nondigital world are sometimes overstated. Those challenges can, however, be properly addressed through the existing legal framework and with some institutional measures, such as equipping CADE with more resources to incorporate advanced, state-of-the-art technical expertise.

Finally, ex-ante regulations like the European Union’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) can have unintended consequences, such as stifling innovation, reducing consumer welfare, and increasing compliance costs. They can also lead to increased risks of regulatory capture and rent seeking, as the verdict on whether a gatekeeper has complied with the law often comes down to the degree to which rivals are satisfied. Of course, rivals have a clear personal stake in never being satisfied. By tethering intervention to a comparatively clear public-benefit standard—consumer welfare—competition laws minimize the potential for error costs and decrease the chances that the law will be coopted for private gain.

I. Objectives and Regulatory Rationale

1.1 What economic and competitive reasons would justify the regulation of digital platforms in Brazil?

In general terms, we believe Brazil does not need sectoral regulations for digital platforms, given that the markets for such services are reasonably competitive. According to economic theory and long-tested economic principles, ex-ante regulation[1] is justified only in the presence of market failures[2]. Digital markets, however, do not present the kind of market failures that warrant ex-ante regulation. For example, digital markets do not present natural monopolies, significant externalities, public goods, or informational asymmetries.

To be sure, one can find some levels of informational asymmetries or externalities, but not to such a  magnitude that they could not be addressed through market competition (actual or potential) or through general rules, such as data-protection or consumer-protection laws. A more plausible argument can be made regarding the presence of “network effects” in online platforms. If a firm moves fast and is the first to attract customers, that customer base will, in turn, attract more customers and sellers. This network growth could, so the story goes, result in a single firm monopolizing the market. However, as Evans and Schmalensee, have pointed out, that result is far from inevitable:

Systematic research on online platforms by several authors, including one of us, shows considerable churn in leadership for online platforms over periods shorter than a decade. Then there is the collection of dead or withered platforms that dot this sector, including Blackberry and Windows in smartphone operating systems, AOL in messaging, Orkut in social networking, and Yahoo in mass online media.[3]

Some regulations and proposals—namely, the European Union’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) or the proposed American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA) in the United States—mention the alleged failures of antitrust law (i.e., “too slow” and “too hard for plaintiffs”) as the primary rationale to regulate digital markets. As Giuseppe Colangelo has explained:

Against this background, the regulatory approaches recently advanced do not seem to reflect the distinctive features of digital markets, but rather the need to design enforcement short-cuts to cope with growing concerns that antitrust law is unable to address potential anticompetitive practices by large online platforms. Hence, in most of the mentioned reports, the revival of regulation seems supported more by an alleged antitrust enforcement failure rather than true a market failure. The goal is indeed to fill alleged enforcement gaps in the current antitrust rules by introducing tools aimed at lowering legal standards and evidentiary burdens in order to address anti-competitive practices that standard antitrust analysis would struggle to tackle.[4]

This could be a plausible justification for regulation. Antitrust cases could be more expedited. Competition agencies and courts should generally have more resources and faster procedures to adjudicate cases before market structures or markets in general change, rendering any potential intervention useless.

The fact that cases are “hard to win”, however, is not a valid justification. This might actually be an advantage, not a shortcoming, of antitrust law—especially in the context of “abuse of dominance” or monopolization cases[5]. Regulations like the DMA replace the concepts of “relevant markets” and “market power” or “dominant position” with others like “core platforms services” or “gatekeeper”, with the express intent of providing shortcuts to condemn business models and practices. But these “shortcuts” have a cost: they can easily lead to condemnation of business models and practices that provide benefits for consumers, such as lower prices and a safer user experience, among others.

Even those open to considering digital-markets regulation acknowledge that there are considerable challenges, especially if the intent is to regulate digital platforms like “essential facilities”:

In the tech industry, the first challenge is to identify a stable essential facility. It must be stable because divestitures take a while to perform, and the cost of implementing them would not be worth its while if the location of the essential facility kept migrating. This condition may not be met, though. While the technology and market segments of electricity, railroads and (up to the 1980s) telecoms had not changed much since the early 20th century, digital markets are fast? moving. This makes it difficult for regulators to identify, collect data on, and regulate essential facilities, if the corresponding technologies and demands keep morphing.[6]

Moreover, even if warranted, regulations create barriers to entry and regulatory risks, and they restrict the monetization of business assets. They also tend to make markets less attractive and could deter potential competitors from entering them. It is possible that the DMA is already producing such consequences. As Alba Ribera has explained:

One of the greatest examples of the dichotomy that arises between the different types of consequences that can be generated by the regulatory capture of digital ecosystems can be found in Meta’s recent decision not to launch its new service Threads in the European Economic Space. To the extent that its service could be interpreted as falling within the definition of a “core platform service” belonging to the category of “online social networks” (listed by the DMA), Meta decided to refrain from entering the European market, due to the disproportionate burden that the demanding obligations imposed by the DMA would entail. It should be noted that Threads is still an entrant service in the online social networking market, in contrast to the predominant position occupied by X (previously known as Twitter). In this way, we observe that the categorization as a core platform service unifies and eliminates all the nuances that free competition entails with respect to incoming services in the markets.[7]

In addition, DMA-like regulation could have additional costs for a developing economy like Brazil, where digital markets are not yet as mature as in the EU. As we have explained, while ex-ante regulation of digital markets is not warranted even when a market is mature, bigger and more developed economies may at least be able to afford the costs generated by such regulation.[8]

Some of these unintended consequences were already observable in the EU even before the DMA fully entered into force. From the perspective of users, regulation can serve to make services and products more expensive. Facebook is already trying a new business model in the EU where the consumer would see no ads (thus, there would be no data collection, or less collection of data for marketing purposes, at any rate), but would have to pay for subscriptions. Some American and European privacy-minded users may prefer this model, and would probably be able to afford it. But that is hardly the case for Latin American consumers, who on average have less than a third of the income of their European counterparts. In fact, it is arguably consumers in developing countries who have benefitted the most from digital platforms with zero-price or otherwise affordable products, such as Whatsapp and Facebook.

From the perspective of the companies that own and operate digital platforms and services, if regulations like the DMA make their platforms less profitable, some could choose not to enter or, indeed, to leave such markets. As Geoffrey Manne and Dirk Auer have explained, “to regulate competition, you first need to attract competition”:

Perhaps the biggest factor cautioning emerging markets against adoption of DMA-inspired regulations is that such rules would impose heavy compliance costs to doing business in markets that are often anything but mature. It is probably fair to say that, in many (maybe most) emerging markets, the most pressing challenge is to attract investment from international tech firms in the first place, not how to regulate their conduct.

The most salient example comes from South Africa, which has sketched out plans to regulate digital markets. The Competition Commission has announced that Amazon, which is not yet available in the country, would fall under these new rules should it decide to enter—essentially on the presumption that Amazon would overthrow South Africa’s incumbent firms.

It goes without saying that, at the margin, such plans reduce either the likelihood that Amazon will enter the South African market at all, or the extent of its entry should it choose to do so. South African consumers thus risk losing the vast benefits such entry would bring—benefits that dwarf those from whatever marginal increase in competition might be gained from subjecting Amazon to onerous digital-market regulations.[9]

FIGURE 1: US Search Results for ‘Crepes in Paris’

SOURCE: Chamber of Progress[10]

The DMA entered into effect in full force in March 2024, and while it may be too early to reach definitive conclusions about its impact, consumers are already experiencing a degraded user experience. For example, the French newspaper Liberation has detailed how Google Maps’ map results are not showing directly in search-results pages in the same ways they once did (See Figures 1 and 2).

Presumably, this is happening because a direct link to Google Maps would constitute “self-preferencing” (See our answer to question 4, below) wherein Google, the search engine, would be “unfairly” directing traffic to its own digital-navigation service. Such conduct is prohibited by Art.6(5) of the DMA. But this kind of integration is very convenient for consumers, who can search for a restaurant and then quickly find the directions to walk or commute to it (and sometimes even book a table).

FIGURE II: French VPN Search Results for ‘Crepes in Paris’

SOURCE: Chamber of Progress[11]

While removing some features, Google is also adding more results to its results pages, because it assumes that it is required under the DMA to provide “fair” links to competing sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor.[12] In theory, the consequence of such requirements is “more options” for consumers. In practice, what consumers have is a more cluttered results page.

Apple highlights another quality-degrading consequence of the DMA: the obligation it imposes that platforms like iOS allow competing app stores and to allow apps to be downloaded directly from their websites (“sideloading”).[13] This “openness”, however, would allow that third-party applications to bypass controls and protections implemented to safeguard users’ security and privacy.[14]

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the DMA’s unintended consequences affect not only consumers, but also business users. Since Google began to implement the DMA on 19 January, 2024, early estimates suggest that clicks from Google ads to hotel websites decreased by 17.6%.[15]  Presumably, this is a failure even by the DMA’s own (uncertain) standards.

1.2 Are there different reasons for regulating or not regulating different types of platforms?

This is a truly relevant question. As we have explained in our previous answer, we do not believe that digital markets generally need to be regulated. But there is an important preceding question: are these markets sufficiently similar to one another to be covered by a single body of regulation?

The terms “digital platforms” and “digital markets” are extremely broad. As was explained at a recent OECD Competition Committee meeting:

The digital economy spans from online retail to real estate listings to concert tickets to travel booking to social media. Consequently, there is not a universally defined digital market. While digital markets are dynamic and evolving, as many markets are, digital market innovations in some segments are not as groundbreaking as they once were. In a similar manner, prominent digital market characteristics are not unique to digital markets. Print newspapers are multi-sided markets. Broadcast radio is zero-price[16]” (emphasis added).

In that same vein, Herbert Hovenkamp concludes that:

… broad regulation is ill-suited for digital platforms because they are so disparate. By contrast, regulation in industries such as air travel, electric power, and telecommunications targets firms with common technologies and similar market relationships. This is not the case, however, with the four major digital platforms that have drawn so much media and political attention—namely, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. These platforms have different inputs. They sell different products, albeit with some overlap, and only some of these products are digital. They deal with customers and diverse sets of third parties in different ways. What they have in common is that they are very large and that a sizeable portion of their operating technology is digital.[17]

When dealing with platforms so different from one another—such as, e.g., Google and Nubank, or Spotify and Ebanx—it is highly unlikely that a single body of strict ex-ante rules would appropriate for them all. In some of these markets, there are clear market leaders with significant market share and few competitors. Others are more fragmented, with more evenly distributed market shares. Some markets present strong “network effects” (e.g., payment systems); while, in others, any “network effects” are much milder (e.g., streaming audio and video). Some products and platforms rely on extremely specific user data, while others work with more general data, etc.

Thus, some rules will be useless in certain markets. To the extent that they must be enforced across the board, however, they will nevertheless generate compliance costs that could be passed on to consumers, despite generating little or no benefits. For example, a data-sharing mandate like the one contained in Art.6 DMA could force gatekeepers to share data that is of little use to other platforms or “business users”. Even when the rules achieve their intended goal of helping business users, they could still negatively impact consumers. The DMA, however, does not allow for any consumer welfare or efficiency exemptions from the conduct it mandates.

1.3 To what extent does the Brazilian context approach or differ from the context of other jurisdictions that have adopted or are considering new regulations for digital platforms? Which cases, studies, or concrete examples in Brazil would indicate the need to review the Brazilian legal-regulatory framework?

The Brazilian context presents several differences from that of other jurisdictions that have adopted or are considering digital-platform regulations. These differences stem from the overall economic context, digital-market characteristics, institutional context, and previous enforcement of antitrust law in each of these divergent marketplaces.

Brazil is, of course, an important economy with tremendous potential, but it remains a developing one. Its GDP growth is projected to slow in 2024. According to the OECD, “(r)ecent reforms have reduced unnecessary bureaucracy and regulations, but further efforts are needed to reduce administrative burdens on markets for goods and services that hamper competition and productivity growth”[18]. In that vein, Brazil should be wary of rushing to pass new regulations that could discourage both local and foreign investment.

Regarding the Brazilian legal and regulatory framework, we should bear in mind that jurisdictions like the EU experimented with the use of antitrust law in digital markets for years before passing the DMA. In fact, most—if not all—of the DMA’s prohibitions and obligations stem from prior competition-law cases[19]. The EU eventually decided that it preferred to pass blanket ex-ante rules against certain practices, rather than having to litigate each through competition law. Whether or not this was the right decision is up for debate (our position is that it was not), but one thing is certain: The EU deployed its competition toolkit against digital platforms extensively before learning from those outcomes and deciding that it needed to be complemented with a new and broader set of enforcer-friendly bright-line rules.

By contrast, Brazil has initiated only a handful of antitrust cases against digital platforms. According to numbers published by CADE[20], it has reviewed 233 merger cases related to digital-platform markets between 1995 and 2023. Regarding unilateral conduct (monopolization cases)—those most relevant for the discussion of digital-market regulation, like Bill 2768/2020 already being discussed in the Brazilian Congress (hereinafter, Bill 2768)[21]—CADE opened 23 conduct cases. Of those 23 cases, nine are still under investigation, 11 were dismissed, and only three were settled via a cease-and-desist agreement. In this sense, only three cases (CDAs) out of 23 were “condemned”. It is highly questionable whether these cases provide sufficient evidence of intrinsic competition problems in digital markets.

In fact, the recent entry of companies into many of those markets suggests that the opposite is closer to the truth. There are numerous examples of entry in a variety of digital services, including the likes of TikTok, Shein, Shopee, and Daki, to name just a few.

II. Sufficiency and Adequacy of the Current Model of Economic Regulation and Defense of Competition

2.1 Is the existing legal and institutional framework for the defense of competition—notably, Law No. 12,529/2011—sufficient to deal with the dynamics of digital platforms? Are there competition and economic problems that are not satisfactorily addressed by the current legislation? What improvements would be desirable to the Brazilian System for the Defense of Competition (SBDC) to deal more effectively with digital platforms?

Yes. To be sure, as in any market, competition problems can emerge in digital markets (e.g., there may be incentives to behave anticompetitively, and some conduct could have an anticompetitive impact), but any possible anticompetitive conduct can and should be addressed by applying antitrust law (Law No. 12,529/2011).

As Colangelo and Borgogno have argued:

… recent and ongoing antitrust investigations demonstrate that standard competition law still provides a flexible framework to scrutinize several practices sometimes described as new and peculiar to app stores.

This is particularly true in Europe, where the antitrust framework grants significant leeway to antitrust enforcers relative to the U.S. scenario, as illustrated by the recent Google Shopping decision.[22]

Indeed, the European Commission has initiated procedures and even imposed fines against Google,[23] while the UK Competition and Markets Authority has settled cases with negotiated remedies against Amazon.[24] In the United States, both the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Justice Department (and several states) have initiated cases against Google,[25] Facebook,[26] and Amazon.[27]

In the same way, we think that CADE should be able to address any potential competition issues. CADE has already initiated investigations and cases related to alleged refusals to deal, self-preferencing, and discrimination against companies like Google, Apple, Meta, Uber, Booking.com, Decolar.com, and Expedia—i.e., precisely the firms that would presumably be covered by a new digital-markets regulation.

A review conducted by the OECD in 2019 concluded that “(w)hile competition law regimes in many emerging economies may still struggle to achieve enforcement goals, the Brazilian regime has largely been considered a success”[28] and that:

CADE is well-regarded within the competition practitioner community both nationally and internationally, the business community, and within the Government administration due to its technical capabilities. It is considered one of the most efficient public agencies in Brazil and its international standing as a leading competition authority both regionally and globally reinforces this domestic view that it is a model public agency.[29]

There should therefore be no doubt in that regard that CADE has the institutional tools and the technical expertise to properly deal with cases in digital markets.

Moreover, based on the EU experience, there is a risk of double jeopardy at the intersection of traditional competition law and ex-ante digital regulation. As Giuseppe Colangelo has written, the DMA is grounded explicitly on the notion that competition law alone is insufficient to effectively address the challenges and systemic problems posed by the digital-platform economy[30]. Indeed, the scope of antitrust is limited to certain instances of market power (e.g., dominance on specific markets) and of anticompetitive behavior. Further, its enforcement occurs ex post and requires extensive investigation on a case-by-case basis of what are often extraordinarily complex sets of facts. Proponents of ex-ante digital-markets regulation argue that competition law therefore may not effectively address the challenges to well-functioning markets posed by the conduct of gatekeepers, who are not necessarily dominant in competition-law terms. As a result, regimes like the DMA invoke regulatory intervention to complement traditional antitrust rules by introducing a set of ex-ante obligations for online platforms designated as gatekeepers. This also allows enforcers to dispense with the laborious process of defining relevant markets, proving dominance, and measuring market effects.

But despite claims that the DMA is not an instrument of competition law, and thus would not affect how antitrust rules apply in digital markets, the regime does appear to blur the line between regulation and antitrust by mixing their respective features and goals. Indeed, the DMA shares the same aims and protects the same legal interests as competition law.

Further, its list of prohibitions is effectively a synopsis of past and ongoing antitrust cases, such as Google Shopping (Case T-612/17), Apple (AT.40437) and Amazon (Cases AT.40462 and AT.40703). Acknowledging the continuum between competition law and the DMA, the European Competition Network (ECN) and some EU member states (self-anointed “friends of an effective DMA”) initially proposed empowering national competition authorities (NCAs) to enforce DMA obligations[31].

Similarly, the prohibitions and obligations often contemplated in proposed digital-markets regulations could, in theory, all be imposed by CADE. In fact, CADE has investigated, and is still investigating, several large companies that would likely fall within the purview of a digital-markets regulation, including Google, Apple, Meta, (still under investigation) Uber, Booking.com, Decolar.com, Expedia and iFood (settled through case-and-desist agreements). CADE’s past and current investigations against these companies already covered conduct targeted by the DMA—such as, e.g., refusal to deal, self-preferencing, and discrimination[32].[16] Existing competition law under Act 12.529/11, the Brazilian competition law, thus clearly already captures these forms of conduct.

The difference between the two regimes is that, while general antitrust law requires a showing of harm and exempts conduct that benefits consumers, sector-specific regulation would, in principle, not.

There is one additional complication. Specific regulation of digital markets (such as Bill 2768) pursues many (though not all) of the same objectives as Act 12.529/11. Insofar as these objectives are shared, it could lead to double jeopardy—i.e., the same conduct being punished twice under slightly different regimes. It could also produce contradictory results because, as pointed out above, the objectives pursued by the two bills are not identical. Act 12.529/11 is guided by the goals of “free competition, freedom of initiative, social role of property, consumer protection and prevention of the abuse of economic power” (Art. 1). To these objectives, Bill 2768 adds “reduction of regional and social inequalities” and “increase of social participation in matters of public interest”. While it is true that these principles derive from Art. 170 of the Brazilian Constitution (“economic order”), the mismatch between the goals of Act 12.529/11 and Bill 2768 may be sufficient to lead to situations in which conduct that is allowed or even encouraged under Act 12.529/11 is prohibited under Bill 2768.

For instance, procompetitive conduct by a covered platform could nevertheless exacerbate “regional or social inequalities”, because it invests heavily in one region but not others. In a similar vein, safety, privacy, and security measures implemented by, e.g., an app-store operator that typically would be considered beneficial for consumers under antitrust law[33] could feasibly lead to less participation in discussions of public interest (assuming one could easily define the meaning of such a term).

Accordingly, sector-specific regulation for digital markets could fragment Brazil’s legal framework due to overlaps with competition law, stifle procompetitive conduct, and lead to contradictory results. This, in turn, is likely to impact legal certainty and the rule of law in Brazil, which could adversely influence foreign direct investment[34].

III. Sufficiency and Adequacy of the Current Model of Economic Regulation and Defense of Competition

3. Law No. 12,529/2011 establishes, in paragraph 2 of article 36 that: “A dominant position is presumed whenever a company or group of companies is capable of unilaterally or coordinated changes in market conditions or when it controls 20% (twenty percent) or more of the relevant market, and this percentage may be changed by CADE for specific sectors of the economy”. Are the definitions of Law 12,529/2011 related to market power and abuse of dominant position sufficient and adequate, as they are applied, to identify market power of digital platforms? If not, what are the limitations?

The existence of a rule like the one contained in paragraph 2 of article 36 of Law No. 12,259/2011 is yet another reason to question any proposal to enact sector-specific regulation of digital markets. The article’s legal presumption is one of the “shortcuts” that regulations like the DMA equip competition agencies or regulators with, allegedly to avoid the administrative costs involved in defining relevant markets. This is one of the purported “benefits” of ex-ante regulation of digital markets.

But a presumption of dominance where market shares exceed 20% is not sufficient to identify digital platforms’ market power, as it would lead to too many “false positives”. It is important to note that market share alone is a misleading indicator of market power. A firm with a large market share could have little market power if it faces market substitution, potential competition, or competitors with able to increase production capacity[35].

To be sure, some competition laws around the world include dominance presumptions based on market share, but in those cases, the thresholds tend to be higher (40% or more).[36]

4. Some behaviors with potential competitive risks have become relevant in discussions about digital platforms, including: (i) economic discrimination by algorithms; (ii) lack of interoperability between competing platforms in certain circumstances; (iii) the excessive use of personal data collected, associated with possible discriminatory conduct; and (iv) the leverage effect of a platform’s own product to the detriment of other competitors in adjacent markets; among others. To what extent does the antitrust law offer provisions to mitigate competition concerns that arise from vertical or complementarity relationships on digital platforms? Which conducts with anticompetitive potential would not be identified or corrected through the application of traditional antitrust tools?

As we have explained in our answer to Question 2, any possible anticompetitive conduct in digital platforms can and should be addressed with the application of antitrust law.

There are certain types of behavior in digital markets that have been targeted by ex-ante regulations that are nevertheless capable of—or even central to—delivering significant procompetitive benefits. It would be unjustified and harmful to subject such conduct to per se prohibitions, or to reverse the burden of proof. Instead, this type of conduct should be approached neutrally, and examined on a case-by-case basis[37].

1. Self-preferencing

Self-preferencing refers to when a company gives preferential treatment to one of its own products (presumably, this type of behavior could already be caught by Art. 10, paragraph II of Bill 2768). An example would be Google displaying its shopping service at the top of search results, ahead of alternative shopping services. Critics of this practice argue that it puts dominant firms in competition with other firms that depend on their services, and that this allows companies to leverage their power in one market to gain a foothold in an adjacent market, thus expanding and consolidating their dominance. But this behavior can also be procompetitive and beneficial to users.

Over the past several years, a growing number of critics have argued that big-tech platforms harm competition by favoring their own content over that of their complementors. Over time, this argument against self-preferencing has become one of the most prominent among those seeking to impose novel regulatory restrictions on these platforms.

According to this line of argument, complementors are “at the mercy” of tech platforms. By discriminating in favor of their own content and against independent “edge providers,” tech platforms cause “the rewards for edge innovation [to be] dampened by runaway appropriation,” leading to “dismal” prospects “for independents in the internet economy—and edge innovation generally.”[38]

The problem, however, is that the claims of presumptive consumer harm from self-preferencing (also known as “vertical discrimination”) are based neither on sound economics nor evidence.

The notion that a platform’s entry into competition with edge providers is harmful to innovation is entirely speculative. Moreover, it is flatly contradicted by a range of studies that show the opposite is likely to be true. In reality, platform competition is more complicated than simple theories of vertical discrimination would have it,[39] and the literature establishes that there is certainly no basis for a presumption of harm.[40]

The notion that platforms should be forced to allow complementors to compete on their own terms—free of constraints or competition from platforms—is a flavor of the idea that platforms are most socially valuable when they are most “open.” But mandating openness is not without costs, most importantly in terms of the platform’s effective operation and its incentives for innovation.

“Open” and “closed” platforms are simply different ways to supply similar services, and there is scope for competition among these divergent approaches. By prohibiting self-preferencing, a regulator might therefore foreclose competition to consumers’ detriment. As we have noted elsewhere:

For Apple (and its users), the touchstone of a good platform is not ‘openness’, but carefully curated selection and security, understood broadly as encompassing the removal of objectionable content, protection of privacy, and protection from ‘social engineering’ and the like. By contrast, Android’s bet is on the open platform model, which sacrifices some degree of security for the greater variety and customization associated with more open distribution. These are legitimate differences in product design and business philosophy.[41]

Moreover, it is important to note that the appropriation of edge innovation and its incorporation into a platform (a commonly decried form of platform self-preferencing) greatly enhances the innovation’s value by sharing it more broadly, ensuring its coherence with the platform, providing incentivizes for optimal marketing and promotion, and the like. In other words, even if there is a cost in terms of reduced edge innovation, the immediate consumer-welfare gains from platform appropriation may well outweigh those (speculative) losses.

Crucially, platforms have an incentive to optimize openness, and to assure complementors of sufficient returns on their platform-specific investments. This does not, however, mean that maximum openness is always optimal. In fact, a well-managed platform typically will exert top-down control where doing so is most important, and openness where control is least meaningful.[42] But this means that it is impossible to know whether any particular platform constraint (including self-prioritization) on edge-provider conduct is deleterious, and similarly whether any move from more to less openness (or the reverse) is harmful.

This state of affairs contributes to the indeterminate and complex structure of platform enterprises. Consider, for example, the large online platforms like Google and Facebook. These entities elicit participation from users and complementors by making access freely available for a wide range of uses, exerting control over that access only in such limited ways as to ensure high quality and performance. At the same time, however, these platform operators also offer proprietary services in competition with complementors, or offer portions of the platform for sale or use only under more restrictive terms that facilitate a financial return to the platform. Thus, for example, Google makes Android freely available, but imposes contractual terms that require installation of certain Google services in order to ensure sufficient return.

The key is understanding that, while constraints on complementors’ access and use may look restrictive relative to an imaginary world without any restrictions, the platform would not be built in such a world the first place. Moreover, compared to the other extreme of full appropriation, such constraints are relatively minor and represent far less than full appropriation of value or restriction on access. As Jonathan Barnett aptly sums it up:

The [platform] therefore faces a basic trade-off. On the one hand, it must forfeit control over a portion of the platform in order to elicit user adoption. On the other hand, it must exert control over some other portion of the platform, or some set of complementary goods or services, in order to accrue revenues to cover development and maintenance costs (and, in the case of a for-profit entity, in order to capture any remaining profits).[43]

For instance, companies may choose to favor their own products or services because they are better able to guarantee their quality or quick delivery.[44][ Amazon, for instance, may be better placed to ensure that products provided by the Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) logistics service are delivered in a timely manner, relative to other services. Consumers also may benefit from self-preferencing in other ways. If, for instance, Google were prevented from prioritizing Google Maps or YouTube videos in its search queries, it could be harder for users to find optimal and relevant results. If Amazon is prohibited from preferencing its own line of products on Amazon Marketplace, it might instead opt not to sell competitors’ products at all.

The power to prohibit platforms from requiring or encouraging customers of one product to also use another would limit or prevent self-preferencing and other similar behavior. Granted, traditional competition law has sought to restrict the “bundling” of products by requiring they be purchased together, but to prohibit incentivizes, as well, goes much further.

2. Interoperability

Another mot du jour is interoperability, which might fall under Art. 10, paragraph IV of Bill 2768. In the context of digital ex-ante regulation, “interoperability” means that covered companies could be forced to ensure that their products integrate with those of other firms—e.g., requiring a social network be open to integration with other services and apps, a mobile-operating system be open to third-party app stores, or a messaging service be compatible with other messaging services.

Without regulation, firms may or may not choose to make their software interoperable. But both the DMA and the UK’s proposed Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill (“DMCC”)[45] would empower authorities to require it. Another example is data “portability”, under which customers are permitted to move their data from one supplier to another, in much the same way that a telephone number can be retained when one changes networks.

The usual argument is that the power to require interoperability might be necessary to overcome network effects and barriers to entry/expansion. Clearly, portability similarly makes it easier for users to switch from one provider to another and, to that extent, intensifies competition or makes entry easier. The Brazilian government should not, however, overlook that both come with costs to consumer choice—in particular, by raising security and privacy concerns, while generating uncertain benefits for competition. It is not as though competition disappears when customers cannot switch services as easily as they can turn on a light. Companies compete upfront to attract such consumers through tactics like penetration pricing, introductory offers, and price wars.[46]

A closed system—that is, one with relatively limited interoperability—may help to limit security and privacy risks. This could encourage platform usage and enhance the user experience. For example, by remaining relatively closed and curated, Apple’s App Store grants users assurances that apps meet certain standards of security and trustworthiness. “Open” and “closed” ecosystems are not synonymous with “good” and “bad”, but instead represent differing product-design philosophies, either of which might be preferred by consumers. By forcing companies to operate “open” platforms, interoperability obligations could undermine this kind of inter-brand competition and override consumer choices.

Apart from potentially damaging the user experience, it is also doubtful whether some interoperability mandates—such as those between social-media or messaging services—can achieve their stated objective of lowering barriers to entry and promoting greater competition. Consumers are not necessarily more likely to switch platforms simply because they are interoperable. An argument can even be made that making messaging apps interoperable, in fact, reduces the incentive to download competing apps, as users can already interact from the incumbent messaging app with competitors.

3. Choice screens

Some ex-ante rules seek to address firms’ ability to influence user choice of apps through pre-installation, defaults and the design of app stores. This has sometimes resulted in “choice screen” mandates—e.g., requiring users to choose which search engine or mapping service is installed on their phone. But it is important to understand the tradeoffs at play here: choice screens may facilitate competition, but they do so at the expense of the user experience, in terms of the time taken to make such choices. There is a risk, without evidence of consumer demand for “choice screens”, that such rules merely impose legislators’ preference for greater optionality over what users find most convenient. Unless there is explicit public demand in Brazil for such measures, it would be ill-advised to implement a choice-screen obligation.

4. Size and market power

Many of the prohibitions and obligations contemplated in ex-ante digital-regulation regimes target incumbents’ size, scalability, and “strategic significance”. It is widely claimed that, because of network effects, digital markets are prone to “tipping”, wherein once a producer gains sufficient market share, it quickly becomes a complete or near-complete monopolist. Although they may begin as very competitive, these markets therefore exhibit a marked “winner-takes-all” characteristic. Ex-ante rules often try to avert or revert this outcome by targeting a company’s size, or by targeting companies with market power.

But many investments and innovations that would benefit consumers—either immediately or over the long term—may also serve to enhance a company’s market power, size, or strategic significance. Indeed, improving a firm’s products and thereby increasing its sales will often lead to increased market power.

Accordingly, targeting size or conduct that bolsters market power, without any accompanying evidence of harm, creates a serious danger of broad inhibition of research, innovation, and investment—all to the detriment of consumers. Insofar as such rules prevent the growth and development of incumbent firms, they may also harm competition, since it may well be these firms that are most likely to challenge the market power of firms in adjacent markets. The case of Meta’s introduction of Threads as a challenge to Twitter (or X) appears to be just such an example. Here, per-se rules adopted to prohibit bolstering a firm’s size or market power in one market may, in fact, prevent that firm’s entry into a market dominated by another. In that case, policymaker action protects monopoly power. Therefore, a much subtler approach to regulation is required.

We do not think it appropriate to reverse the burden of proof in the context of alleged competition harms in digital platforms. Without substantive evidence that such conduct causes widespread harm to a well-defined public interest (e.g., similar to cartels in the context of antitrust law), there is no justification for reversing the burden of proof, and any such reversals risk undermining consumer benefits and innovation, and discouraging investment in the Brazilian economy, out of a justified fear that procompetitive conduct will result in fines and remedies. By the same token, where the appointed enforcer makes a prima facie case of harm—whether in the context of antitrust law or ex-ante digital regulation—it should also be prepared to address arguments related to efficiencies.

5. Regarding the control of structures, is there a need for some type of adaptation in the parameters of submission and analysis of merger acts that seeks to make the detection of potential harm to competition in digital markets more effective? For example: mechanisms for reviewing acquisitions below the notification thresholds, burden of proof, and elements for analysis – such as the role of data, among others – that contribute to a holistic approach to the topic.

No, no change is needed regarding notification thresholds or analysis criteria for merger operations in digital markets. In line with our answer to Question 4 above (see 4.4, on “size and market power”), we do not think it is appropriate to reverse the burden of proof in the context of digital platforms.

As Bowman and Dumitriu show in a paper[47] analyzing a United Kingdom proposal to create special (more stringent) rules for mergers in the digital sector, mergers and acquisitions can actually enhance competition in digital markets, because:

  1. They are a profitable exit strategy for entrepreneurs;
  2. They enable an efficient “market for corporate control”;
  3. They can reduce transaction costs among complementary products; and
  4. They can support inter-platform competition.

Therefore, Bowman and Dumitriu recommend that “the government should consider a more moderate approach thar retains the balance of probabilities approach” and that, rather than reform competition laws, it should work to increase the availability of growth capital to small firms (tax breaks, financial support, etc.)[48].

There may, of course, be some challenges in applying antitrust laws to digital markets. It is often mentioned that defining relevant markets is harder in the digital context, due to their complexity and multi-sidedness, and the fact that competition is often not price-based. The rapid evolution of digital markets and the presence of network effects are also mentioned as reasons to create new rules.

Methodological difficulties do not, however, justify a major revamp of antitrust rules. Antitrust law and economics are sufficiently flexible and versatile to adapt to new markets. Modernization of the analysis and methodologies, of course, is always welcome, but that can be done within the current set of rules. Rather, it would be valuable to encourage the use of the same general analyses and tools in a wide scope of markets, so that the authority has a common benchmark and more general lessons to extract from specific cases.

IV. Design of a Possible Regulatory Model for Procompetitive Economic Regulation

5. Should Brazil adopt specific rules of a preventive nature (ex ante character) to deal with digital platforms, in order to avoid conduct that is harmful to competition or consumers? Would antitrust law—with or without amendments to deal specifically with digital markets—be sufficient to identify and remedy competition problems effectively, after the occurrence of anticompetitive conduct (ex post model) or by the analysis of merger acts?

No, there should not be absolute prohibitions on these sorts of conduct, especially without substantive experience to suggest that such conduct is always or almost always harmful and largely irredeemable (NB: Here, we answer the question in general terms; please see our answer to Question 4 for a discussion of why particular conduct (e.g., self-preferencing) should not be per-se prohibited).

Regardless of the harm to the targeted companies, overly broad prohibitions (or mandates) can harm consumers by chilling procompetitive conduct and discouraging innovation and investment. This is particularly true when no showing of harm is required and the law is not amenable to efficiencies arguments, as in the case of the DMA. The fact that such prohibitions apply to vastly different markets (for example, cloud services have little to do with search engines) regardless of context is also a sure sign that they are overly broad and poorly designed.

In fact, there are indications that, where DMA-style regulations have been introduced, it has delayed the advance of technology. For example, Google’s Bard artificial intelligence (AI) was rolled out later in Europe due to the EU’s uncertain and strict AI and privacy regulations.[49] Similarly, Meta’s Threads was not initially available in the EU, because of the constraints imposed by both the DMA and the EU’s data-privacy regulation (GDPR).[50] Twitter/X CEO Elon Musk has indicated that the cost of complying with EU digital regulations, such as the Digital Services Act, could prompt the company to exit the European market.[51]

Apart from foreclosing procompetitive conduct that benefits consumers and freezing technology in time (which would ultimately exacerbate the technological chasm between more and less advanced countries), rigid per-se rules could also apply to many budding companies that cannot be considered “gatekeepers” by any stretch of the imagination. This risk is particularly notable in the context of Brazil, given the extremely low threshold for what constitutes a “gatekeeper” enshrined in Article 9 (R$70 million, or approximately USD$14 million). Thus, many Brazilian “unicorns” could—either immediately or in the near future—be captured by these new, restrictive rules, which could in turn stunt their growth and chill innovative products. Ultimately, this would imperil Brazil’s emerging status as “[Latin America’s] most established startup hub,” and cast a shadow on what The Economist has referred to as the bright future of Latin American startups.[52][33]

The list of harmed companies could include some of Brazil’s most promising startups, such as:

  • 99 (transport app)
  • Neon Bank (digital bank)
  • C6 Bank (digital bank)
  • CloudWalk (payment method)
  • Creditas (lending platform)
  • Ebanx ((payment solutions)
  • Facily (social commerce)
  • Frete.com (road freight)
  • Gympass (from corporate benefits)
  • Hotmart (platform for selling digital products)
  • iFood (delivery)
  • Loft (rental platform)
  • Loggi (logistics)
  • Bitcoin Market (cryptocurrency broker)
  • Merama (e-commerce)
  • Madeira Madeira (home and decoration products store)
  • Nubank (bank)
  • Olist (e-commerce)
  • Wildlife (game developer)
  • Quinto Andar (rental platform)
  • Vtex (technology and digital commerce)
  • Unico (biometrics)
  • Dock (infrastructure)
  • Pismo (technology for payments and banking services)[53][34]

6.1. What is the possible combination of these two regulatory techniques (ex ante and ex post) for the case of digital platforms? Which approach would be advisable for the Brazilian context, also considering the different degrees of flexibility necessary to adequately identify the economic agents that should be the focus of any regulatory action and the corresponding obligations?

As mentioned in our answers to questions 1, 4, and 6, we don’t think there is a valid justification to regulate digital markets at the sectoral level. Therefore, there is not an “ideal” combination of ex ante and ex post intervention in such markets. Digital competition and the “rule of reason” used to analyze unilateral conduct already provide the flexibility needed to adequately identify the economic agents that should be the focus of intervention (after the fact, with actual information about the impact of specific conducts in the market) and the corresponding obligations (remedies).

7. Jurisdictions that have adopted or are considering the adoption of pro-competitive regulatory models – such as the new European Union rules, the Japanese legislation and the United Kingdom’s regulatory proposal, among others – have opted for an asymmetric model of regulation, differentiating the impact of digital platforms based on their segment of operation and according to their size, as is the case with gatekeepers in the European DMA.

7.1. Should Brazilian legislation that introduces parameters for the economic regulation of digital platforms be symmetrical, covering all agents in this market or, on the contrary, asymmetric, establishing obligations only for some economic agents?

Regulations like the DMA or Brazil’s proposed Bill 2768 contemplate thresholds (usually based on sales or the number of users) that trigger application of its prohibitions and mandates. In theory, these thresholds make said regulations more “reasonable”, in the sense they would be enforced only against digital platform that are “too big” or “too powerful”. Sales and quantity of users, however, are not reliable proxies for market power. In that sense, as we have explained in our previous answers, ex-ante regulation of digital markets would enforce “blind” rules that will ban conduct or business models that are beneficial for consumers.

Moreover, asymmetric regulation (especially absent evidence of market power by any specific economic agent) could “distort market signals and create opportunities for strategic and inefficient uses of regulatory authority by competitors”[54].

7.2. If the answer is to adopt asymmetric regulation, what parameters or references should be used for this type of differentiation? What would be the criteria (quantitative or qualitative) that should be adopted to identify the economic agents that should be subject to platform regulation in the Brazilian case?

As mentioned in our answers to questions 1, 4, and 6, we do not think there is a valid justification to regulate digital markets, much less in an asymmetric way. If, however, a regulation were to be adopted and designed to apply to only some specific market actors, it should be applied only after a finding of a large degree of market power (that is, “monopoly power” or a “dominant position”).

8. Are there risks for Brazil arising from the non-adoption of a new pro-competitive regulatory model, especially considering the scenario in which other jurisdictions have already adopted or are in the process of adopting specific rules aimed at digital platforms, taking into account the global performance of the largest platforms? What benefits could be obtained by adopting a similar regulation in Brazil?

Every approach entails risks. The question is whether adopting ex-ante rules is riskier than not adopting them, an assessment that ultimately comes down to an evaluation of error costs. In our view, there are not any significant risks (if any) of not adopting a specific regulation for digital markets and, in any case, those risks that do exist are far outweighed by the benefits. Countries that take their time to study markets, perform proper regulatory-impact analysis, and enact a serious notice-and comment-process, will be most able to learn from the experience of other regulators and markets[55]. The recent deployment of the DMA in Europe will be useful case study. South Korea, for instance, recently hit the “pause button” on its proposal to regulate digital markets—citing, among other reasons “exploring methods to regulate platforms efficiently while reducing the industry’s load”.[56]

The other side of the coin is that promptly approving regulation has costs: inefficiency, regulatory burden, and unintended consequences like less competition and inferior products delivered to consumers, as explained above. Furthermore, once ex-ante rules are passed, any ensuing costs and unintended consequences will be exceedingly difficult to reverse.

8.1. How would Brazil, in the case of the adoption of an eventual pro-competition regulation, integrate itself into this global context?

Brazil, its policymakers, regulators, and competition agencies can perfectly integrate into a global context of digitalization of markets without adopting ex-ante regulation of digital markets. Brazil can collaborate and exchange information with other policymakers and enforcement agencies under existing competition laws and forums like the OECD and the International Competition Network. With these interactions, Brazil can assure that its legal and institutional framework is up to date and that its regulations are based on evidence and solid economic theory.

Finally, only a handful of countries have adopted comprehensive ex-ante digital competition rules; namely, the EU and Germany. Others are considering their adoption, but have not done so yet (e.g., Turkey, South Africa, Australia, and South Korea). The extent to which the global context is currently defined by these new, experimental rules is thus often overstated. As argued above, Brazil should wait and see. If the new rules prove not to be what their proponents claim—as we have argued here—Brazil would derive a competitive advantage from not following suit.

V. Institutional Arrangement for Regulation and Supervision

9. Is it necessary to have a specific regulator for the supervision and regulation of large digital platforms in Brazil, considering only the economic-competitive dimension?

9.1. If so, would it be appropriate to set up a specific regulatory body or to assign new powers to existing bodies? What institutional coordination mechanisms would be necessary, both in a scenario involving existing bodies and institutions, and in the hypothesis of the creation of a new regulator?

In line with our previous answers, we do not think it is necessary to set up a new regulator or assign regulatory functions to existing agencies. Bill 2768, for instance, proposes to give ANATEL the function to oversee digital markets, building on its expertise in telecommunications regulation. Most of the proposals to regulate digital markets, however, appear to be competition-based, or at least declare the pursuit of goals similar to competition law. Therefore, the agency best-positioned to enforce such a regulation would, in principle, be CADE. Conversely, there is a palpable risk that, in discharging its duties under Bill 2768, ANATEL would transpose the logic and principles of telecommunications regulation to “digital” markets. That would be misguided, as these are two very different markets.

Not only are “digital” markets substantively different from telecommunications markets, but there is really no such thing as a clearly demarcated concept of a “digital market”. For example, the digital platforms described in Art. 6, paragraph II of Bill 2768 are not homogenous, and cover a range of different business models. In addition, virtually every market today incorporates “digital” elements, such as data. Indeed, companies operating in sectors as divergent as retail, insurance, health care, pharmaceuticals, production, and distribution have all been “digitalized.” What appears to be needed is an enforcer with a nuanced understanding of the dynamics of digitalization and, especially, the idiosyncrasies of digital platforms as two-sided markets. While CADE arguably lacks substantive experience with digital platforms, it is better-placed to enforce Bill 2768 than ANATEL because of its deep experience with the enforcement of competition policy.

Moreover, having the regulation applied by CADE would reduce the risk or “regulatory capture”. As Jean Tirole has explained:

… regulatory capture, which is one of the reasons why multi?industry regulators and competition authorities were created in the past. This raises the issue of where the new agency should be located. It could be part of the Competition authority, part of another agency (…), or a stand?alone entity. Making it part of the Competition Authority would reduce a bit the risk of capture and would also avoid the lengthy debates about which companies are really digital, which might arise if the unit is located within a sectoral regulator[57].

[1] By ex-ante regulation, we mean specific rules and duties that are sector specific (“digital markets”), whose application would not be based on the effects of the conduct regulated and where fines would apply in case of noncompliance. See Bruce H. Kobayashi & Joshua D. Wright, Antitrust and Ex-Ante Sector Regulation, The Glob. Antitrust Inst. Report on the Dig. Econ 25. (2020); See Table 1, at 869.

[2] See Robert Cooter & Tomas Ulen, Law and Economics (2000), at 40-43; W. Kip Viscusi, Joseph E. Harrington, Jr. and John M. Vernon, Economics of Regulation and Antitrust (2005), at 376-379.

[3] David S. Evans & Richard Schmalensee. Debunking The “Network Effects” Bogeyman, Regulation 39 (Winter 2017-2018) available at https://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/regulation/2017/12/regulation-v40n4-1.pdf.

[4] Giuseppe Colangelo, Evaluating the Case for Regulation of Digital Platforms, The Glob. Antitrust Inst. Report on the Dig. Econ 26, 930 (2020) https://gaidigitalreport.com/2020/10/04/evaluating-the-case-for-ex-ante-regulation-of-digital-platforms.

[5] We often run the risk of condemning business practices and models we don’t fully understand. Sometimes, even the businesses that implement them don’t fully know or understand the impact of such practices. See Frank H. Easterbrook, Limits of Antitrust, 63 Tex. L. Rev. 1 (1984).

[6] Jean Tirole, Competition and the Industrial Challenge for the Digital Age, 6 (2020), available at https://www.tse-fr.eu/sites/default/files/TSE/documents/doc/by/tirole/competition_and_the_industrial_challenge_april_3_2020.pdf.

[7] Alba Ribera, La Regulación de los Ecosistemas Digitales Frente a las Relaciones Complejas se los Operadores Económicos, Centro Competencia (18 Oct. 2023), https://centrocompetencia.com/regulacion-ecosistemas-digitales-relaciones-complejas-operadores-economicos. Free translation of the following text in Spanish: “Uno de los mayores ejemplos de la dicotomía que se erige entre los distintos tipos de consecuencias que se pueden generar por la captura regulatoria de los ecosistemas digitales lo podemos encontrar en la reciente decisión de Meta, de no lanzar su nuevo servicio Threads en el Espacio Económico Europeo. En la medida en que su servicio podría interpretarse de forma que cayera dentro de la definición de un “servicio básico de plataforma” perteneciente a la categoría de redes sociales en línea” (listada por la LMD), Meta decidió abstenerse de entrar en el mercado europeo, por la carga desproporcionada que le supondría las exigentes obligaciones impuestas por la LMD. Cabe notar que Threads es aún un servicio entrante en el mercado de redes sociales en línea, en contraste con la posición predominante ocupada por la actual X (anteriormente conocida como Twitter). De esta forma, observamos que la categorización como servicio básico de plataforma unifica y elimina todos los matices que el propio juego de la libre competencia opera respecto de servicios entrantes en los mercados”.

[8] Lazar Radic, Digital-Market Regulation: One Size Does Not Fit All, Truth on the Market (17 Apr. 2023), https://truthonthemarket.com/2023/04/17/digital-market-regulation-one-size-does-not-fit-all. “While perhaps the EU—the world’s third largest economy—can afford to impose costly and burdensome regulation on digital companies because it has considerable leverage to ensure (with some, though as we have seen, by no means absolute, certainty) that they will not desert the European market, smaller economies that are unlikely to be seen by GAMA as essential markets are playing a different game”.

[9] The argument presented in the article is about South Africa, but it is relevant to Brazil. See Geoffrey Manne & Dirk Auer, Brussels Effect or Brussels Defect: Digital Regulation in Emerging Markets, Truth on the Market (20 Dec. 2022), https://truthonthemarket.com/2022/12/20/brussels-effect-or-brussels-defect-digital-regulation-in-emerging-markets.

[10] Adam Kovacevich, Europe’s Digital Market Act Fails Consumers, Chamber of Progress (4 Mar. 2024), https://medium.com/chamber-of-progress/europes-digital-market-act-fails-consumers-dcaf70cc548c.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Jon Porter & David Pierce, Apple Is Bringing Sideloading and Alternate App Stores to the iPhone, The Verge (25 Jan. 2024), https://www.theverge.com/2024/1/25/24050200/apple-third-party-app-stores-allowed-iphone-ios-europe-digital-markets-act.

[14] See Apple, Complying with the Digital Markets Act (2024), available at https://developer.apple.com/security/complying-with-the-dma.pdf.

[15] Mirai, LinkedIn (Feb. 2024), https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:7161330551709138945.

[16] See, The Evolving Concept of Market Power in the Digital Economy – Summaries of Contributions 6, OECD, (22 June 2022), available at https://one.oecd.org/document/DAF/COMP/WD(2022)63/en/pdf.

[17] Herbert Hovenkamp, Antitrust and Platform Monopoly. 130 Yale L. J. 1952, 1956 (2021).

[18] Brazil Should Boost Productivity And Infrastructure Investment To Drive Growth, OECD (18 Dec. 2023), https://www.oecd.org/newsroom/brazil-should-boost-productivity-and-infrastructure-investment-to-drive-growth.htm.

[19] See Giuseppe Colangelo, The Digital Markets Act and EU Antitrust Enforcement: Double & Triple Jeopardy, Int’l Ctr. For L. and Econ. (23 Mar. 2022), https://laweconcenter.org/resources/the-digital-markets-act-and-eu-antitrust-enforcement-double-triple-jeopardy.

[20] CADE, Mercados de Plataformas Digitais, SEPN 515 Conjunto D, Lote 4, Ed. Carlos Taurisano CEP: 70.770-504 – Brasília/DF, available at https://cdn.cade.gov.br/Portal/centrais-de-conteudo/publicacoes/estudos-economicos/cadernos-do-cade/Caderno_Plataformas-Digitais_Atualizado_29.08.pdf.

[21] See https://www.camara.leg.br/proposicoesWeb/fichadetramitacao?idProposicao=2337417.

[22] Giuseppe Colangelo & Oscar Borgogno, App Stores as Public Utilities?, Truth on the Market (19 Jan. 2022), https://truthonthemarket.com/2022/01/19/app-stores-as-public-utilities.

[23] See a list here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antitrust_cases_against_Google_by_the_European_Union.

[24] See https://www.gov.uk/cma-cases/amazon-online-retailer-investigation-into-anti-competitive-practices.

[25] See https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-sues-google-monopolizing-digital-advertising-technologies.

[26] See https://www.ftc.gov/legal-library/browse/cases-proceedings/191-0134-facebook-inc-ftc-v.

[27] See https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2023/09/ftc-sues-amazon-illegally-maintaining-monopoly-power.

[28] OECD, OECD Peer Reviews of Competition Law and Policy: Brazil 18 (2019), www.oecd.org/daf/competition/oecd-peer-reviews-of-competition-law-and-policy-brazil-2019.htm.

[29] Id. at 24.

[30] Colangelo, supra note 20.

[31] How National Competition Agencies Can Strengthen the DMA, European Competition Network (22 Jun. 2021), available at https://ec.europa.eu/competition/ecn/DMA_joint_EU_NCAs_paper_21.06.2021.pdf.

[32] For a detailed overview of CADE’s decisions in digital platforms and payments services, see CADE, Mercados de Plataformas Digitais, Cadernos de Cade (Aug. 2023), available at https://cdn.cade.gov.br/Portal/centrais-de-conteudo/publicacoes/estudos-economicos/cadernos-do-cade/Caderno_Plataformas-Digitais_Atualizado_29.08.pdf.

[33] See, e.g., Epic Games, Inc. v. Apple Inc. 20-cv-05640-YGR.

[34] Joseph Staats & Glen Biglaiser, Foreign Direct Investment in Latin America: The Importance of Judicial Strength and Rule of Law, Int’l Studies Quarterly, 56(1), 193–202 (2012).

[35] Richard A. Posner & William M. Landes, Market Power in Antitrust Cases, 94 Harv. L. Rev. 937 (1980), 947-950.

[36] See, e.g., Roundtable of Safe Harbours and Legal Presumptions in Competition Law – Note by Germany 5, OECD (Dec. 2017), available at https://one.oecd.org/document/DAF/COMP/WD(2017)88/en/pdf.

[37] The following is adapted from Geoffrey Manne, Against the Vertical Discrimination Presumption, Concurrences N° 2-2020, Art. N° 94267 (May 2020), https://www.concurrences.com/en/review/numeros/no-2-2020/editorial/foreword and our comments on the UK’s proposed Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers (“DMCC”) Bill: Dirk Auer, Matthew Lesh, & Lazar Radic, Digital Overload: How the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill’s sweeping new powers threaten Britain’s economy, 4 IEA Perspectives 16-21 (2023), available at https://iea.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Perspectives_4_Digital-overload_web.pdf.

[38] Hal Singer, How Big Tech Threatens Economic Liberty, The Am. Conserv. (7 May 2019), https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/how-big-tech-threatens-economic-liberty.

[39] Most of these theories, it must be noted, ignore the relevant and copious strategy literature on the complexity of platform dynamics. See, e.g., Jonathan M. Barnett, The Host’s Dilemma: Strategic Forfeiture in Platform Markets for Informational Goods, 124 Harv. L. Rev. 1861 (2011); David J. Teece, Profiting from Technological Innovation: Implications for Integration, Collaboration, Licensing and Public Policy, 15 Res. Pol’y 285 (1986); Andrei Hagiu & Kevin Boudreau, Platform Rules: Multi-Sided Platforms as Regulators, in Platforms, Markets and Innovation, (Andrei Gawer ed., 2009); Kevin Boudreau, Open Platform Strategies and Innovation: Granting Access vs. Devolving Control, 56 Mgmt. Sci. 1849 (2010).

[40] For examples of this literature and a brief discussion of its findings, see Manne, supra note 37.

[41] Brief for the International Center for law and Economics as Amicus Curiae, Epic Games v. Apple, No. 21-16506, 21-16695 (2022).

[42] See generally, Hagiu & Boudreau, supra note 30; Barnett, supra note 30.

[43] Barnett, id.

[44] See Lazar Radic & Geoffrey Manne, Amazon Italy’s Efficiency Offense. Truth on the Market (11 Jan. 2022), https://truthonthemarket.com/2022/01/11/amazon-italys-efficiency-offense.

[45] Introduced as Bill 294 (2022-23), currently HL Bill 12 (2023-24), Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3453.

[46] Joseph Farrell & Paul Klemperer, Coordination and Lock-In: Competition with Switching Costs and Network Effects, 3 Handbook of Indus. Org. 3, 1967-2072 (2007).

[47] Sam Bowman & Sam Dimitriu, Better Together: The Procompetitive Effects of Mergers In Tech 9-15 (2021) The Entrepreneurs Net. & The Int’l Ctr. for L. & Econ. (2021), available at https://laweconcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/BetterTogether.pdf.

[48] Id. at 23.

[49] Clothilde Goujard, Google Forced to Postpone Bard Chatbot’s EU Launch over Privacy Concerns, Politico (13 Jun. 2023), https://www.politico.eu/article/google-postpone-bard-chatbot-eu-launch-privacy-concern.

[50] Makena Kelly, Here’s Why Threads Is Delayed in Europe, The Verge (10 Jul. 2023), https://www.theverge.com/23789754/threads-meta-twitter-eu-dma-digital-markets.

[51] Musk Considers Removing X Platform from Europe over EU Law, EurActiv (19 Oct. 2023), https://www.euractiv.com/section/platforms/news/musk-considers-removing-x-platform-from-europe-over-eu-law.

[52] The Future Is Bright for Latin American Startups, The Economist (13 Nov. 2023), https://www.economist.com/the-world-ahead/2023/11/13/the-future-is-bright-for-latin-american-startups.

[53] See Distrito, Panorama Tech América Latina (2023), available at https://static.poder360.com.br/2023/09/latam-report-1.pdf.

[54] David L. Kaserman & John W. Mayo, Competition and Asymmetric Regulation in Long-Distance Telecommunications: An Assessment of the Evidence, 4 CommLaw Conspectus 1, 4 (1996).

[55] See Mario Zúñiga, From Europe, with Love: Lessons in Regulatory Humility Following the DMA Implementation, Truth on the Market (22 Feb. 2024), https://truthonthemarket.com/2024/02/22/from-europe-with-love-lessons-in-regulatory-humility-following-the-dma-implementation.

[56] Kwon Soon-Wan & Yeom Hyun-a, South Korea Hits Pause on Anti-Monopoly Platform Act Targeting Google, Apple, The Chosun Daily (8 Feb. 2024), https://www.chosun.com/english/national-en/2024/02/08/A4U4X6TWEFFOXF7ITCS5K6SZN4.

[57] Jean Tirole, Competition and the Industrial Challenge for the Digital Age, Inst. Fiscal. Studies (2022), at 7, available at https://ifs.org.uk/inequality/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Competition-and-the-industrial-challenge-IFS-Deaton-Review.pdf.

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Net Neutrality and the Paradox of Private Censorship

TOTM With yet another net-neutrality order set to take effect (the link is to the draft version circulated before today’s Federal Communications Commission vote; the final version is . . .

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Read the full piece here.

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Presentations & Interviews ICLE Senior Scholar Miko?aj Barczentewicz was a guest on the Mobile Dev Memo podcast to discuss the European Data Protection Board’s recent ruling on the . . .

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Comentarios de ICLE a la Comisión Federal de Competencia Económica de México Sobre el Mercado de Marketplaces

Regulatory Comments Resumen Ejecutivo Agradecemos la oportunidad de presentar nuestros comentarios al Informe Preliminar (en adelante, el Informe[1]) publicado por la Autoridad Investigadora (AI) de la Comisión . . .

Resumen Ejecutivo

Agradecemos la oportunidad de presentar nuestros comentarios al Informe Preliminar (en adelante, el Informe[1]) publicado por la Autoridad Investigadora (AI) de la Comisión Federal de Competencia Económica (COFECE), luego de culminada su investigación sobre la competencia en el mercado de comercio electrónico. El International Center for Law and Economics (“ICLE”) es un think-tank global de políticas públicas e investigación, no partidista y sin fines de lucro, fundado con el objetivo de construir las bases intelectuales para políticas sensatas y económicamente fundamentadas. ICLE promueve el uso de las metodologías del Análisis Económico del Derecho para informar los debates de política pública, y tiene una larga experiencia en la evaluación de leyes y políticas de competencia. El interés de ICLE es garantizar que la aplicaciones de las leyes de competencia y el impacto de la regulación sobre la competencia se base en reglas claras, precedentes establecidos, evidencia y un análisis económico sólido.

El Informe ha sido emitido en el marco de un procedimiento contemplado en la Ley de Competencia de México, conocido como “Investigaciones para Determinar Facilidades Esenciales o Barreras a la Competencia”, en virtud del cual COFECE iniciará una investigación “cuando existan elementos que sugieran que no existen condiciones efectivas de competencia en un mercado”. La AI es responsable de emitir un informe de investigación preliminar y proponer medidas correctivas. El Pleno de la COFECE podrá posteriormente adoptar o rechazar la propuesta.

Nuestros comentarios sugieren respetuosamente a los Comisionados de la COFECE no seguir las recomendaciones de la AI en lo que se refiere a la competencia en el mercado de comercio electrónico. Si bien el Informe es un esfuerzo loable por comprender el mercado de marketplaces y proteger la competencia en él —competencia que ha sido beneficiosa para los consumidores mexicanos—sus conclusiones y recomendaciones no siguen la evidencia ni los métodos y principios generalmente aceptados del Derecho de la Libre Competencia.

En primer lugar, de acuerdo con la Ley de Competencia mexicana, cualquier investigación debe apuntar a eliminar “restricciones al funcionamiento eficiente de los mercados”. Sin embargo, según información disponible públicamente, Amazon y Mercado Libre (MeLi), las dos empresas identificadas como “dominantes” en el informe, debe su éxito al hecho de que gozan de la preferencia de los consumidores, y cuentan la confianza de éstos, antes que a la existencia de “barreras a la competencia”. El informe también parece ignorar los beneficios para el consumidor que ofrecen los modelos de negocio de Amazon y MeLi (es decir, productos y servicios más baratos, entrega rápida, acceso más fácil a la información para comparar productos, etc.).

En segundo lugar, el Informe define un mercado relevante irrazonablemente “estrecho”, que incluye sólo “mercados en línea en múltiples categorías de productos y que operan a nivel nacional”. Esta definición de mercado ignora a otros minoristas en línea (como Shein o Temu) porque venden una selección menos amplia de productos, agregadores de comercio electrónico (como Google Shopping)  porque son “meros intermediarios” que conectan compradores y vendedores, sitios propios de vendedores (como Apple o Adidas) porque no operan en diversas categorías, así como tiendas físicas. Esta definición, artificialmente estrecha, distorsiona drásticamente la participación de mercado de Amazon y MeLi, haciéndola parecer mucho mayor de lo que realmente es.

En tercer lugar, esta distorsionada definición del mercado relevante conduce hacia la errada conclusión de que Amazon y MeLi ostentan una posición dominante, un requisito previo para la adopción de medidas aplicables a dichas empresas. Esta conclusión es errada porque el Informe utiliza un concepto de “barreras a la entrada” que parece considerar cualquier costo que enfrenten los nuevos participantes como una barrera a la entrada que protege a Amazon y MeLi de la competencia. Como explicamos más adelante, estos costos son costos comerciales regulares, no barreras específicas del mercado que impiden la entrada de nuevos actores. En efecto, la evidencia muestra que, efectivamente, han estado entrando regularmente nuevas empresas en el mercado.

Finalmente, el informe sugiere remedios que perjudicarían a los consumidores en lugar de beneficiarlos. El Informe sugiere obligar a Amazon y MeLi a separar sus servicios de streaming (como Amazon Prime) de sus programas de fidelización. Esto perjudicaría a los consumidores que actualmente disfrutan de beneficios combinados a un precio más bajo. Además, exigir que las plataformas sean interoperables conlas otros proveedores de logística sofocaría la innovación y la inversión, ya que estas plataformas no aprovecharían los beneficios de su infraestructura digital. Esta interoperabilidad obligatoria también podría perjudicar a los consumidores, quienes pueden atribuir fallas relacionadas con la entrega a los marketplaces, en lugar de a los proveedores de logística responsables de ellas, creando así un típico problema de “free-riding”.

I. Introducción

El Informe ha sido emitido en el marco de un procedimiento contemplado en el artículo 94 de la Ley de Competencia de México, conocido como “Investigaciones para Determinar Facilidades Esenciales o Barreras a la Competencia”. Según esta disposición, la COFECE iniciará una investigación “cuando existan elementos que sugieran que no existen condiciones de competencia efectiva en un mercado”. La investigación debería apuntar a determinar la existencia de “barreras a la competencia y al libre acceso a los mercados” o de “facilidades esenciales”.

La AI es responsable de emitir un informe de investigación preliminar y proponer medidas correctivas. El Informe deberá identificar el mercado objeto de la investigación con el fin de que cualquier persona interesada aporte elementos durante la investigación. Una vez finalizada la investigación, la AI emitirá un Informe, incluyendo las medidas correctivas que se consideren necesarias para eliminar las restricciones al funcionamiento eficiente del mercado. Los agentes económicos potencialmente afectados por las medidas correctivas propuestas tienen la oportunidad de comentar y aportar evidencia. El Pleno de la COFECE puede posteriormente adoptar o rechazar las propuestas.

Entendemos y elogiamos las preocupaciones de la COFECE sobre la competencia en los mercados, pero cualquier investigación debe apuntar a eliminar “las restricciones al funcionamiento eficiente de los mercados”, el propósito de la Ley de Competencia de México, según su Artículo 2. Las conclusiones y recomendaciones del Informe no parecen considerar las eficiencias generadas por los marketplaces líderes, lo que puede explicar por qué gozan de la preferencia de los consumidores.

De hecho, según información públicamente disponible, Amazon y MeLi, las dos empresas identificadas como “dominantes” en el informe, son debe su éxito a la preferencia y confianza de los consumidores. Según una fuente[2], por ejemplo:

La popularidad del marketplace de Amazon en México se basa en gran medida en la satisfacción del cliente. Amazon es la segunda plataforma de comercio electrónico más apreciada en México, según  una encuesta de Kantar, con un índice de satisfacción de 8.5 sobre 10. El feedback de los consumidores también es esencial para el éxito del mercado de Amazon, ya que permite a los compradores realizar compras exitosas. . Las reseñas de los consumidores también son esenciales para el éxito del marketplace de Amazon, ya que permiten a los compradores realizar compras informadas. Las buenas críticas destacan la velocidad y confiabilidad de Amazon (el énfasis es nuestro).

Según un estudio publicado por el Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (IFT) sobre el uso de plataformas digitales durante la pandemia de Covid-19, el 75.8% de los usuarios afirma estar satisfecho o muy satisfecho con las aplicaciones y páginas web que utiliza para comprar en línea. Precisamente MeLi y Amazon fueron las plataformas más mencionadas con un 67,3% y un 30,3% de menciones, respectivamente.[3]

El informe también parece ignorar los beneficios para el consumidor que ofrecen los modelos de negocio de Amazon MeLi (es decir, productos y servicios más baratos, entrega rápida, acceso más fácil a la información para comparar productos, etc.).

El Informe encuentra evidencia preliminar de que “no existen condiciones de competencia efectiva en el Mercado Relevante de Vendedores y en el Mercado Relevante de Compradores”, así como la existencia de tres “Barreras a la Competencia” que generan restricciones al funcionamiento eficiente de dichos mercados.

Las supuestas barreras consisten en:

  1. “Artificialidad” en algunos componentes de los programas de fidelización de los mercados, ya que los servicios integrados en programas de fidelización que, sin estar directamente vinculados a la capacidad del mercado para llevar a cabo o facilitar transacciones entre compradores y vendedores, y que, conjuntamente con los “efectos de red” que se generan en las plataformas, afectan el comportamiento de los compradores;
  2. “Opacidad” en el Buy Box[4], considerando que los vendedores en los mercados no tienen acceso a las formas en que Amazon y MeLi eligen los productos colocados en el Buy Box; y
  3. Soluciones logísticas, ya que Amazon y MeLi no permiten que todos los proveedores de servicios logísticos accedan a las interfaces de programación de aplicaciones (APIs, por sus siglas en inglés) de sus plataformas, sino que “atan” los servicios de sus marketplaces con sus propios servicios de entrega.

Para eliminar estas supuestas barreras, el Informe propone tres remedios que se aplicarían a Amazon y MeLi:

  1. La obligación de “desasociar” los servicios de streaming de los programas de membresía y/o fidelización (por ejemplo, Amazon Prime), así como de cualquier otro servicio no relacionado con servicio de marketplace (por ejemplo, juegos y música, entre otros);
  2. La obligación de realizar todas las acciones que sean “necesarias y suficientes” para permitir a los vendedores ajustar libremente sus estrategias comerciales con pleno conocimiento de los procesos de selección del Buy Box; y
  3. La obligación de permitir que empresas de logística de terceros se integren en las plataformas de Amazon y MeLi a través de sus respectivas API, y de garantizar que la selección de Buy Box no dependa de la elección del proveedor de logística a menos que afecte los “criterios de eficiencia y rendimiento”.

No estamos de acuerdo con las conclusiones y recomendaciones del Informe por las razones que se exponen a continuación:

II. Una definición del mercado relevante artificialmente restrictiva

Antes que un procedimiento de “abuso de posición dominante”, la investigación de mercado que condujo a la emisión del Informe fue el “procedimiento cuasi-regulatorio” descrito líneas arriba. Pero la redacción del artículo 94 de la Ley Federal de Competencia Económica de México (bajo la cual se autorizó la investigación) sugiere contundentemente que la COFECE tiene que establecer (no simplemente afirmar que existe) una “ausencia de competencia efectiva”. Esto implicaría que existe una “falla del mercado” que impide la competencia, o que existe un agente económico con una posición dominante. El informe intenta mostrar esto último, pero lo hace de manera poco convincente.

Para determinar si una determinada empresa tiene una “posición dominante” (poder monopólico), las agencias de competencia deben primero definir un “mercado relevante” en el que la conducta o modelo de negocio cuestionado tenga un efecto. Aunque es común que las autoridades antimonopolio definan de manera restrictiva los mercados relevantes (a menudo, cuanto más pequeño es el mercado, más fácil es descubrir que el hipotético monopolista es, de hecho, un monopolista), creemos que el Informe va demasiado lejos en el caso que nos ocupa.

El Informe parece seguir el (mal) ejemplo de su homólogo estadounidense, la Comisión Federal de Comercio (FTC). Como explica Geoffrey Manne en un informe sobre la reciente denuncia[5] por monopolización de la FTC contra Amazon:

La denuncia de la FTC contra Amazon describe dos mercados relevantes en los que supuestamente se han producido daños anticompetitivos: (1) el “mercado de los grandes supermercados en línea” y (2) el “mercado de servicios de marketplaces en línea”.

… la demanda de la FTC limita el mercado de los supermercados en línea únicamente a las tiendas en línea, y lo limita aún más a las tiendas que tienen una “gran amplitud y profundidad” de productos. Esto último significa tiendas en línea que venden prácticamente todas las categorías de productos (“como artículos deportivos, artículos de cocina, indumentaria y electrónica de consumo”) y que también tienen una amplia variedad de marcas dentro de cada categoría (como Nike, Under Armour, Adidas , etc.). En la práctica, esta definición excluye los canales privados de marcas líderes (como la tienda en línea de Nike), así como las tiendas en línea que se centran en una categoría particular de productos (como el enfoque de Wayfair en muebles). También excluye las tiendas físicas que todavía representan la gran mayoría de las transacciones minoristas. Las empresas con importantes ventas en línea y físicas podrían contar, pero sólo sus ventas en línea se considerarían parte del mercado.[6]

El Informe hace algo similar. Define dos mercados relevantes;

  1. Mercado Relevante de Vendedores: consiste en el servicio de marketplaces para vendedores, con dimensión geográfica nacional.
  2. Mercado Relevante de Compradores: consiste en el servicio de marketplaces y tiendas en línea multicategoría para compradores en el territorio nacional, que incluye modelos de negocio de marketplaces (híbridos y no híbridos) y tiendas en línea con múltiples categorías de productos.

Ambos mercados, sin embargo, están definidos de forma irrazonablemente restrictiva. Al alegar que los grandes mercados en línea “se han posicionado como una importante opción”, la agencia ignora la competencia de otros minoristas, tanto on-line como off-line. El Informe ignora otras plataformas de comercio electrónico, como Shein[7] y Temu[8] de China, que han ganado tanto popularidad como participación en el mercado publicitario. El Informe tampoco menciona los agregadores de comercio electrónico como Google Shopping, que permiten a los consumidores buscar casi cualquier producto, compararlos y encontrar ofertas competitivas; así como la competencia de sitios web de comercio electrónico propiedad de los propios vendedores, como Apple o Adidas.

Esta exclusión es, por decir lo menos, discutible. Para competir con una “super-tienda online”, las tiendas online no tienen que contar necesariamente con la misma gama de productos que tienen Amazon o MeLi, porque “los consumidores compran productos, no tipos de tiendas”[9]:

De hecho, parte de la supuesta ventaja de las compras en línea (cuando es una ventaja) es que los consumidores no tienen que agrupar las compras para minimizar los costos de transacción de visitar físicamente a un minorista tradicional. Mientras tanto, otra parte de la ventaja de las compras en línea es la facilidad de comparar precios: los consumidores ni siquiera tienen que cerrar una ventana de Amazon en sus computadoras para verificar alternativas, precios y disponibilidad en otros lugares. Todo esto socava la afirmación de que el “one-stop shopping” es una característica definitoria del supuesto mercado relevante.[10]

El Informe también parece ignorar la competencia que representan por los minoristas tradicionales, que disciplinarían cualquier intento de Amazon o Meli de explotar su poder de mercado. Por supuesto, cuántos consumidores podrían cambiar de proveedor y en qué medida eso afectaría a los marketplaces en cuestión son cuestiones empíricas. Pero no hay duda de que al menos algunos consumidores podrían cambiarse. Sobre el particular, es importante recordar que la competencia se produce en los márgenes. En consecuencia, no es necesario que todos los consumidores cambien para afectar las ventas y las ganancias de una empresa.

El informe hace mención a las ventas a través de las redes sociales, pero no las incluye en el mercado relevante. Desde nuestro punto de vista las redes sociales como canal de ventas deben considerarse como un sustituto razonable de Amazon y Meli, considerando que el 85% de las pequeñas y medianas empresas recurrieron a Facebook, Instagram y WhatsApp durante la pandemia de Covid-19 para publicitar y vender sus productos.[11] La Guía Comercial publicada por la Administración de Comercio Internacional del Departamento de Comercio de Estados Unidos para México informa que “los compradores mexicanos están muy influenciados por las redes sociales a la hora de realizar compras. El cuarenta y tres por ciento de los compradores de comercio electrónico han comprado a través de comercio conversacional o comercio electrónico (ventas a través de Facebook o WhatsApp) y el 29 por ciento a través de “lives” o transmisiones en vivo”.[12]

También hay evidencia empírica de que Amazon no sólo compite, sino que compite intensamente con otros canales de distribución, y tiene un efecto neto positivo en el bienestar de los consumidores mexicanos. Un artículo[13] de 2022 encontró que:

  1. El comercio electrónico y los minoristas tradicionales en México operan en un único mercado minorista, altamente competitivo; y,
  2. La entrada de Amazon ha generado un importante efecto procompetitivo al reducir los precios minoristas de las tiendas físicas y aumentar la selección de productos para los consumidores mexicanos.

El mismo documento concluye que la entrada al mercado de productos vendidos y entregados por Amazon dio lugar a reducciones de precios de hasta un 28%.[14] A la luz de esta evidencia, creemos que es un error suponer que mercados como Amazon y MeLi no compiten con otros minoristas. Por tanto, estos últimos deberían incluirse en el mercado relevante.

Por si esta estrecha definición del mercado relevante no fuera suficiente, el informe combina las cuotas de mercado de Amazon y MeLi, para concluir que, ambas empresas ostentan más del 85% de las ventas y transacciones en el Mercado Relevante de Vendedores durante el periodo analizado, y el Índice Herfindahl-Hirschman (HHI) supera los dos mil puntos (por tanto, el mercado sería “altamente concentrado”). Asimismo, en el “Mercado Relevante de Compradores” el HHI se estimó, para 2022, en 1614 unidades, y los tres principales participantes concentran el 61% (sesenta y uno por ciento) del mercado. En ambos mercados, los demás participantes tienen una participación significativamente menor.

Pero ¿por qué combinar la cuota de mercado de Amazon y MeLi, como si actuaran como una sola empresa? Dada la definición de mercado de la AI, Amazon y MeLi (por lo menos) estarían compitiendo entre sí. El continuo crecimiento del mercado y la evolución de las respectivas cuotas de mercado de las empresas indican que así es. Un artículo de 2020, por ejemplo, informa que:

Cadenas de autoservicios, departamentales y nativas digitales tienen un objetivo en común: ser quien acapare más mercado en el comercio electrónico en México. En esta batalla, Amazon y Mercado Libre se ponen a la cabeza, pues son las dos firmas que concentran casi un cuarto del total de mercado de este rubro.

Al cierre de 2019, Amazon contaba con un cuota de mercado del 13.4%, que lo colocaba al frente de los demás competidores. Ese mismo año, con 11.4% se encontraba Mercado Libre”.[15]

También es inconsistente con la hipótesis de un mercado con “barreras a la competencia” el hecho de que el mercado de comercio electrónico está creciendo continuamente en México, que ahora es el segundo mercado de comercio electrónico más grande de América Latina.[16]

Es sólo sobre la base de una descripción distorsionada del mercado relevante que puede arribarse a la conclusión de que Amazon y MeLi tienen “el poder de fijar precios” (otra forma de decir “poder de monopolio”). Teniendo en cuenta lo explicado líneas arriba, esa conclusión debe rechazarse.

III. Una injustificada determinación de la existencia de una “posición dominante”

Incluso si se acepta la definición de mercado del Informe y, por lo tanto, se considera que Amazon y MeLi tienen una participación de mercado significativa, ambas empresas aún podrían enfrentar la competencia de nuevos participantes, atraídos al mercado por los precios más altos (u otras condiciones “explotativas”) que cobrarían a los consumidores. Según el Informe, sin embargo, existen varias barreras que obstaculizan “la entrada y la expansión” en ambos mercados relevantes. Entre ellos, el Informe menciona, por ejemplo:

  1. Barreras de entrada relacionadas con los altos montos de inversión para el desarrollo del mercado, así como para el desarrollo de herramientas tecnológicas integradas al mismo…. Además, se requieren altos montos de inversión relacionados con el desarrollo de infraestructura logística y en capital de trabajo relacionado con fondos necesarios para cubrir gastos operativos, inventarios, cuentas por cobrar y otros pasivos corrientes; y,
  2. Barreras de entrada relacionadas con inversiones considerables en publicidad, marketing y relaciones públicas. Para atraer un número importante de compradores y vendedores a la plataforma que garantice el éxito del negocio, es imperativo contar con una marca bien posicionada, reconocida y con buena reputación.

Sin embargo, y contrariamente a lo que afirma el Informe, estos son costos de hacer negocios, no “barreras de entrada”. Como explicó convincentemente Richard Posner, el término “barrera de entrada” se utiliza comúnmente para describir cualquier obstáculo o costo que enfrentan los entrantes al mercado[17]. Pero según esta definición (aparentemente adoptada por el Informe), cualquier costo es una barrera de entrada. Basándose en la definición más precisa de George Stigler, Posner sugirió definir una barrera de entrada como “una condición que impone a un nuevo entrante costos de producción a largo plazo más altos que los que soportan las empresas que ya están en el mercado”.[18] En otras palabras, bien entendida, una barrera a la entrada es un costo asumido por los nuevos participantes, que no fue asumido por los ya actores establecidos.

La definición de “barreras de entrada” de la AI también contradice la definición dada por la sección IV del artículo 3 de la Ley de Competencia de México, según la cual una barrera a la competencia es:

Cualquier característica estructural del mercado, acto o hecho realizado por Agentes Económicos con el propósito o efecto de impedir el acceso a competidores o limitar su capacidad para competir en los mercados; que impida o distorsione el proceso de competencia y libre acceso a los mercados, así como cualquier disposición legal emitida por cualquier nivel de gobierno que impida o distorsione indebidamente el proceso de competencia y libre acceso a los mercados.

Por supuesto, Amazon y MeLi tienen algunas ventajas sobre otras empresas en términos de infraestructura, conocimientos, escala y goodwill. Pero esas ventajas no cayeron del cielo. Amazon y MeLi los construyeron con el tiempo, invirtiendo (y continuando invirtiendo) a menudo enormes cantidades para lograrlo. Incluso los “efectos de red”, a menudo considerados como una fuente inevitable de monopolio, no son un obstáculo definitivo para la competencia. Como han señalado Evans y Schmalensee:

la investigación sistemática sobre plataformas en línea realizada por varios autores, incluido uno de nosotros, muestra una considerable rotación en el liderazgo de las plataformas en línea en períodos inferiores a una década. luego está la colección de plataformas muertas o marchitas que salpican este sector, incluidas blackberry y windows en los sistemas operativos de teléfonos inteligentes, aol en mensajería, orkut en redes sociales y yahoo en medios masivos en línea.[19]

La idea de que Amazon y MeLi están protegidas por barreras de entrada también se contradice con la entrada de nuevos rivales, como Shein y Temu.

Como se explicó anteriormente, el Informe también combina erróneamente las participaciones de mercado de Mercado Libre y Amazon, para alcanzar una participación de mercado combinada del 85% (ochenta y cinco por ciento) de las ventas y transacciones en el Mercado Relevante de Vendedores; y luego combina la participación de mercado de los tres principales participantes del mercado en el Mercado Relevante para Compradores para alcanzar una participación de mercado del 61% (sesenta y uno por ciento) del mercado. Esto es muy problemático, ya que esas empresas no son una sola entidad económica y, por lo tanto, presumiblemente (a falta de evidencia de colusión) debe asumirse que compiten entre sí.

En todo caso, las cuotas de mercado producidas por el Informe sólo conducen a un IHH alto, lo que a su vez muestra que el mercado está “altamente concentrado” (si se acepta la estrecha definición de mercado del Informe). Pero la concentración es un pobre indicador del poder de mercado. Los economistas han estudiado la relación entre la concentración y diversos indicios potenciales de efectos anticompetitivos (precio, margen, ganancias, tasa de rendimiento, etc.) durante décadas, y la evidencia empírica es más que suficiente para decir que la concentración podría conducir a problemas de competencia.[20] No es per se una prueba de falta de competencia, y mucho menos de una posición dominante.

Como resumió recientemente Chad Syverson:

Quizás el problema conceptual más profundo de la concentración como medida del poder de mercado es que es un resultado, no un determinante central inmutable de cuán competitivo es una industria o un mercado… Como resultado, la concentración es peor que un simple barómetro poco preciso del poder de mercado. En realidad, ni siquiera podemos saber en general en qué dirección está orientado el barómetro.[21]

IV. Los remedios propuestos van a perjudicar al consumidor antes que beneficiarlo

Incluso si aceptáramos la definición de mercado relevante sugerida por el Informe y su determinación de la existencia de una posición dominante, los remedios propuestos —que podrían resumirse en la separación obligatoria de los servicios de streaming de Amazon y MeLi de sus programas de fidelización (como Prime de Amazon) y hacer que (al menos parte de) sus plataformas sean “interoperables” con otros servicios logísticos—perjudicaría a los consumidores, en lugar de beneficiarlos.

Amazon Prime, por ejemplo, ofrece a los consumidores muchos beneficios atractivos: acceso a streaming de vídeo y música; ofertas y descuentos especiales; y, por último, pero no menos importante, envío gratuito en dos días. Según el Informe, estos “son una estrategia artificial que atrae y retiene a los compradores, a la vez que reduce que los compradores y vendedores usen marketplaces alternativos.”

No está del todo claro qué significa el término “artificial” en este contexto, pero parece implicar algo fuera de los límites de la competencia “natural”. Sin embargo, la estrategia de negocio que describe el Informe es la definición misma de competencia. Las empresas que compiten en un mercado siempre eligen un “paquete” de atributos que combinan en un solo producto. En cierta medida “apuestan” por un conjunto de características (funcionalidad, materiales, términos y condiciones) que implican asumir determinado costos, que luego ofrecen a un precio determinado, que puede ser asumido por clientes dispuestos (o no). Incluso con información imperfecta, los mercados (es decir, los vendedores y los consumidores) son los agentes mejor calificados para “decidir” el nivel apropiado de “agrupación” de un producto, no las agencias de competencia o los tribunales.

Un mandato para desagregar los servicios de streaming en realidad degradaría la experiencia de los consumidores online, quienes tendrían que contratar y pagar esos servicios por separado[22]. La prestación independiente de dichos servicios no se beneficiaría de las economías de escala y alcance de Amazon o MeLi y, por tanto, sería más cara. Ofrecer más beneficios a los consumidores a un precio determinado es lo precisamente lo que queremos que hagan los competidores. Tratar el beneficio para el consumidor como un daño es un contrasentido para el Derecho y las políticas de competencia (y, de hecho, para la noción misma de competencia).

Por otro lado, el informe también propone ordenar la apertura del Buy Box y modificar sus reglas, a fin de que sea neutral para todos los proveedores de logística. Exigir que se permita a dichos proveedores ofrecer sus servicios en Amazon o Mercado Libre equivale a considerar estas plataformas como “operadores comunes”, tal como los legisladores y reguladores hicieron con las antiguas redes de telefonía del siglo XX. Sin embargo, esta clasificación y las reglas que de ella se derivan (neutralidad y regulación de precios, entre otras) fueron diseñadas para mercados con monopolios naturales, donde la competencia no es posible, o incluso indeseable.[23] Pero no hay evidencia de que este sea el caso de los marketplaces de comercio electrónico. Por el contrario, las plataformas digitales son mucho más competitivas. En este contexto, el aplicara éstas las normas del tipo “common carrier” sólo crearía “free-riding” e incentivos negativos para la inversión y la innovación (tanto por parte de los actuales participantes del mercado como de los nuevos entrantes). Los vendedores y proveedores de logística tienen muchas otras opciones para acceder a los consumidores. No existe ninguna justificación económica o legal para ordenar su acceso mandatorio a las plataformas de Amazon o MeLi.

En resumen, las conclusiones erróneas del Informe conducen a soluciones aún peores. Tales soluciones no promoverían la competencia en México ni beneficiarían a los consumidores.

[1] El texto completo de el Informe (en su versión pública) está disponible en el siguiente enlace: https://www.cofece.mx/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Dictamen_Preliminar_Version_Publica.pdf.

[2] La Patria, ¿Qué tan popular es el marketplace de Amazon en México? (23 Apr. 2023), https://www.lapatria.com/publirreportaje/que-tan-popular-es-el-marketplace-de-amazon-en-mexico.

[3] Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones, Adopción, Uso y satisfacción de las aplicaciones y herramientas digitales para compras y banca en línea, videollamadas, redes sociales, salud y trámites gubernamentales en tiempos de Covid-19 (Jan 19, 2022), https://www.ift.org.mx/sites/default/files/contenidogeneral/usuarios-y-audiencias/aplicacionesyherramientasdigitalesentiemposdecovid19.pdf.

[4] El “Buy Box” o, traduciendo literalmente el “Recuadro de compra” es un cuadro que normalmente se encuentra en el lado derecho de la página web del marketplace cuando los clientes buscan un producto. Estar en esta casilla es una ventaja para el vendedor porque no solo resalta su producto, sino que también facilita el proceso de pago. Por supuesto, esto también es una ventaja para los consumidores, que pueden encontrar y comprar productos más rápido.

[5] Ver: https://www.ftc.gov/legal-library/browse/cases-proceedings/1910129-1910130-amazoncom-inc-amazon-ecommerce.

[6] Geoffrey A. Manne, Gerrymandered Market Definitions in FTC v. Amazon (Jan. 26, 2024), https://laweconcenter.org/resources/gerrymandered-market-definitions-in-ftc-v-amazon.

[7] Ver, por ejemplo: Krystal Hu y Arriana McLymore, Exclusive: Fast-fashion giant Shein plans Mexico factory, Reuters (Mayo 24, 2023), https://www.reuters.com/business/retail-consumer/fast-fashion-giant-shein-plans-mexico-factory-sources-2023-05-24.

[8] Ver, por ejemplo: Rising E-commerce Star: The Emergence of Temu in Mexico, BNN (Sep. 25, 2023), https://bnnbreaking.com/finance-nav/rising-e-commerce-star-the-emergence-of-temu-in-mexico.

[9] Geoffrey A. Manne, Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Expansión, El 85% de las Pymes usa redes sociales para vender en línea (28 Jul. 2021), https://expansion.mx/tecnologia/2021/07/28/el-85-de-las-pymes-usa-redes-sociales-para-vender-en-linea.

[12] International Trade Organization, Mexico – Country Commercial Guide, (Nov. 5, 2023), https://www.trade.gov/country-commercial-guides/mexico-ecommerce.

[13] Raymundo Campos Vázquez et al., Amazon’s Effect on Prices: The Case of Mexico, Centro de Estudios Económicos, Documentos de Trabajo, Nro. II (2022), https://cee.colmex.mx/dts/2022/DT-2022-2.pdf.

[14] Ibid, p. 23.

[15] El CEO, Amazon y Mercado Libre se disputan la corona del comercio electrónico en México (Mar 17, 2020), https://elceo.com/negocios/amazon-y-mercado-libre-se-discuten-la-corona-del-comercio-electronico-en-mexico.

[16] “Over the last few years, online buying and selling have gained considerable ground in Mexico, so much so that the country has positioned itself as the second largest e-commerce market in Latin America. With a rapidly increasing online buying population, it was forecast that nearly 70 million Mexicans would be shopping on the internet in 2023, a figure that would grow by over 26 percent by 2027.”). Stephanie Chevalier, E-commerce market share in Latin American and the Caribbean 2023, by country, Statista, March 25, 2024, https://www.statista.com/statistics/434042/mexico-most-visited-retail-websites.

[17] Richard Posner, Antitrust Law (2nd. Ed. 2001), pp.73-74.

[18] Ibid., p. 74.

[19] David S.Evans and Richard Schmalensee, Debunking the “network effects” bogeyman, Regulation (Winter 2017-2018), at 39, https://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/regulation/2017/12/regulation-v40n4-1.pdf.

[20] Sólo para citar alguos de los ejemplos más relevante de una amplia literatura, ver: Steven Berry, Martin Gaynor, & Fiona Scott Morton, Do Increasing Markups Matter? Lessons from Empirical Industrial Organization, 33J. Econ. Perspectives 44 (2019); Richard Schmalensee, Inter-Industry Studies of Structure and Performance, in 2 Handbook of Industrial Organization 951-1009 (Richard Schmalensee & Robert Willig, eds., 1989); William N. Evans, Luke M. Froeb, & Gregory J. Werden, Endogeneity in the Concentration-Price Relationship: Causes, Consequences, and Cures, 41 J. Indus. Econ. 431 (1993); Steven Berry, Market Structure and Competition, Redux, FTC Micro Conference (Nov. 2017), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_events/1208143/22_-_steven_berry_keynote.pdf; Nathan Miller, et al., On the Misuse of Regressions of Price on the HHI in Merger Review, 10 J. Antitrust Enforcement 248 (2022).

[21] Chad Syverson, Macroeconomics and Market Power: Context, Implications, and Open Questions 33 J. Econ. Persp. 23, (2019) at 26.

[22] Ver, sobre el particular: Alden Abbott, FTC’s Amazon Complaint: Perhaps the Greatest Affront to Consumer and Producer Welfare in Antitrust History, Truth on the Market (September 27, 2023), https://truthonthemarket.com/2023/09/27/ftcs-amazon-complaint-perhaps-the-greatest-affront-to-consumer-and-producer-welfare-in-antitrust-history.

[23] Ver, por ejemplo: Giuseppe Colangelo y Oscar Borgogno, App Stores as Public Utilities?, Truth on the Market (January 19, 2022), https://truthonthemarket.com/2022/01/19/app-stores-as-public-utilities.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

ICLE Comments on the COFECE Report on Marketplace Competition in Mexico

Regulatory Comments Executive Summary We are thankful for the opportunity to submit our comments to the Preliminary Report (hereinafter, the Report)[1] published by the Investigative Authority (IA) . . .

Executive Summary

We are thankful for the opportunity to submit our comments to the Preliminary Report (hereinafter, the Report)[1] published by the Investigative Authority (IA) of the Federal Economic Competition Commission (COFECE, after its Spanish acronym) following its investigation of competition in the retail electronic-commerce market. The International Center for Law & Economics (“ICLE”) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan global research and policy center founded with the goal of building the intellectual foundations for sensible, economically grounded policy. ICLE promotes the use of law & economics methodologies to inform public-policy debates and has longstanding expertise in the evaluation of competition law and policy. ICLE’s interest is to ensure that competition law remains grounded in clear rules, established precedent, a record of evidence, and sound economic analysis.

The Report stems from a procedure included in the Mexican Competition Act, known as “Investigations to Determine Essential Facilities or Barriers to Competition”. COFECE can initiate such investigations “when there are elements suggesting there are no effective competition conditions in a market.” The IA is responsible for issuing a preliminary investigative report and proposing corrective measures. COFECE’s Board of Commissioners can later adopt or reject the proposal.

Our comments respectfully suggest to COFECE Commissioners not to follow the recommendations of the IA concerning competition in the retail electronic-commerce market. While the Report is a laudable effort to understand the market and to protect the competition upon it—competition that has been beneficial to Mexican consumers—its conclusions and recommendations do not follow the evidence and the generally accepted methods and principles of Antitrust laws and best practices.

In first place, under the Mexican Competition Act, investigations should aim to eliminate only “restrictions to the efficient operation of markets”, the purpose of According to publicly available information, however, Amazon and Mercado Libre (MeLi), the two companies identified as “dominant” in the report, owe their success to consumer preferences and trust, rather than “barriers to competition”. Indeed, if these were present, they would lead to consumer dissatisfaction that is simply not the case here. The report also ignores the consumer benefits provided by Amazon and MeLi’s business models (i.e., cheaper products and services, fast delivery, easier access to information to compare products, etc.).

Second, the Report defines an unreasonably narrow relevant market that includes only “online marketplaces in multiple product categories and operating at the national level”. This market definition ignores other online retailers (like Shein or Temu) because they sell a narrower selection of goods?, e-commerce aggregators (like Google Shopping) because they are merely intermediaries that connect buyers and sellers, seller-owned websites (like Apple or Adidas) because they do not sell as many distinct product categories, as well as brick-and-mortar stores. By artificially narrowing the market in this way, the report drastically overstates Amazon and MeLi’s market shares.

Third, this gerrymandered relevant market leads to an artificial finding that Amazon and MeLi are “dominant” marketplaces—a key requirement for subsequent enforcement. This finding is problematic because the Report considers any costs faced by new entrants as “barriers to entry” that insulate the two marketplaces from competition. As we argue below, however, these “barriers” are merely regular business costs that do not prevent new players from entering. To wit, the record shows that new firms regularly enter the market.

Finally, the proposed remedies would harm rather than benefit consumers. The Report suggests forcing Amazon and MeLi to separate their streaming services (like Amazon Prime) from their loyalty programs. This would hurt consumers who currently enjoy bundled benefits at a lower price. Additionally, requiring the platforms to interoperate with other logistics providers would stifle innovation and investment as these platforms wouldn’t reap the benefits of their digital infrastructure. This mandated interoperability could also harm consumers who may attribute delivery-related failings to the marketplaces rather than logistics providers responsible for them, thereby creating a standard free-rider problem.

I. Introduction

The Report has been issued in the context of a procedure contemplated in Article 94 of the Mexican Competition Act, known as “Investigations to Determine Essential Facilities or Barriers to Competition”. According to this provision, COFECE shall initiate an investigation “when there are elements suggesting there are no effective competition conditions in a market”. The investigation should aim to determine the existence of “barriers to competition and free market access” or of “essential facilities”.

An IA is responsible for issuing a preliminary investigative report and to propose corrective measures. The Report must identify the market subject to the investigation with the purpose of allowing any person to provide elements during the investigation. Once the investigation is finished, the IA shall issue a Report, including corrective measures deemed necessary to eliminate the restrictions to the efficient operation of the market. Economic agents potentially affected by corrective measures proposed have the opportunity to comment and provide evidence. COFECE’s Board of Commissioners can later adopt or reject the proposals.

We understand and commend COFECE’s concerns for competition in the marketplaces market, but any investigation should aim to eliminate “restrictions to the efficient operation of markets”, the purpose of the Mexican Competition Act, according to its Article 2[2]. The conclusions and recommendations of the Report do not appear to consider the efficiency of the leading marketplaces, which may explain why consumers routinely choose them over rivals.

Indeed, according to publicly available information, Amazon and MeLi, the two companies identified as “dominant” in the report, owe their success to consumer preferences and trust.  According to one source[3], for instance:

The popularity of the Amazon marketplace in Mexico is largely based on customer satisfaction. Amazon is the second most appreciated e-commerce platform in Mexico, according to a Kantar survey, with a satisfaction index of 8.5 out of 10. Consumer feedback is also essential to the success of the Amazon marketplace, as it allows buyers to make successful purchases. Consumer reviews are also essential to the success of the Amazon marketplace, allowing buyers to make informed purchases. Good reviews highlight Amazon’s speed and reliability [emphasis added].

According to a study published by the Federal Institute of Telecommunications (IFT, after its Spanish acronym) about the use of digital platforms during the Covid-19 pandemic, 75.8% of users claim to be satisfied or very satisfied with the applications and webpages they use to buy online. Moreover, MeLi and Amazon were the most mentioned platforms with 67.3% and 30.3% of mentions, respectively.[4]

The report also appears to ignore the consumer benefits provided by Amazon MeLi’s business models (i.e., cheaper products and services, fast delivery, easier access to information to compare products, etc.).

The Report finds preliminary evidence to support the notion that “there are no conditions of effective competition in the Relevant Market of Sellers and in the Relevant Market of Buyers,” as well as the existence of “three Barriers to Competition” that generate restrictions on the efficient functioning of said markets.

The alleged barriers consist of:

  1. “Artificiality” in some components of the marketplaces’ loyalty programs (services embedded in loyalty programs that—without being directly linked to the marketplace’s ability to carry out or facilitate transactions between buyers and sellers, and coupled with “network effects”—affect buyers’ behavior);
  1. “Buy Box opacity”[5] (sellers on the marketplaces don’t have access to the ways that Amazon and MeLi choose the products placed into the Buy Box); and
  1. “Logistic solutions foreclosure,” because Amazon and MeLi don’t allow all logistics providers to access their platforms’ Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), but rather bundle marketplace services with their own fulfillment services.

To eliminate these alleged barriers, the Report proposes three remedies, to be applied to Amazon and MeLi:

  1. An obligation to “disassociate” streaming services from membership and/or loyalty programs (e.g., Amazon Prime), as well as any other service unrelated to use of the marketplace (e.g., games and music, among others);
  2. An obligation to carry out all actions that are “necessary and sufficient” to allow sellers to freely adjust their commercial strategies with full knowledge of the Buy Box selection processes; and
  3. An obligation to allow third-party logistics companies to integrate into the platform through their respective APIs, and to ensure that Buy Box selection doesn’t depend on the choice of logistics provider unless it affects “efficiency and performance criteria.”

We disagree with the findings and recommendations of the Report for the reasons stated below:

II. An Unreasonably Narrow Market Definition

Rather than an “abuse of dominance” procedure, the market investigation that led to the report was a “quasi-regulatory procedure.” But the wording of Article 94 of the Mexican Federal Economic Competition Act (under which the investigation was authorized) strongly suggests that COFECE has to establish (not simply assert) an “absence of effective competition.” This would entail either that there is a “market failure” that impedes competition, or that there is an economic agent with a dominant position. The report unconvincingly tries to show the latter.

To determine if any given company has a “dominant position” (monopoly power), competition agencies must first define a “relevant market” in which the challenged conduct or business model has an effect. Although it is common for antitrust enforcers to define relevant markets narrowly (often, the smaller the market, the easier it is to find that the hypothetical monopolist is, in fact, a monopolist), we think the Report goes too far in the case at hand.

The Report appears to follow the bad example of its American counterpart, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). As Geoffrey Manne explains in an Issue Brief about the FTC’s recent monopolization complaint[6] against Amazon the agency:

The FTC’s complaint against Amazon describes two relevant markets in which anticompetitive harm has allegedly occurred: (1) the “online superstore market” and (2) the “online marketplace services market.”

the FTC’s complaint limits the online-superstore market to online stores only, and further limits it to stores that have an “extensive breadth and depth” of products. The latter means online stores that carry virtually all categories of products (“such as sporting goods, kitchen goods, apparel, and consumer electronics”) and that also have an extensive variety of brands within each category (such as Nike, Under Armor, Adidas, etc.). In practice, this definition excludes leading brands’ private channels (such as Nike’s online store), as well as online stores that focus on a particular category of goods (such as Wayfair’s focus on furniture). It also excludes the brick-and-mortar stores that still account for the vast majority of retail transactions. Firms with significant online and brick-and-mortar sales might count, but only their online sales would be considered part of the market. [7]

The Report does something similar. It defines two relevant markets;

  1. Sellers Relevant Market: consists of the marketplace service for sellers, with a national geographical dimension.
  2. Buyers Relevant Market: consists of the service of marketplaces and multi-category online stores for buyers in the national territory, which includes marketplace business models (hybrid and non-hybrid) and online stores with multiple categories of products.

Both markets, however, are defined in an unreasonably narrow way. By alleging that large online marketplaces “have positioned themselves as an important choice,” the agency ignores competition from other online and offline retailers. The Report ignores other e-commerce platforms—like China’s Shein[8] and Temu[9]—that have gained both popularity and advertising-market share. The report also neglects to mention e-commerce aggregators like Google Shopping, which allow consumers to search for almost any product, compare them, and find competitive offers; as well as competition from e-commerce websites owned by sellers, such as Apple or Adidas.

This exclusion seems wrong. To compete with and “online superstores”, online stores do not need the scope of products that Amazon or MeLi have, because “consumers buy products, not store types”[10]:

Indeed, part of the purported advantage of online shopping—when it’s an advantage—is that consumers don’t have to bundle purchases together to minimize the transaction costs of physically visiting a brick-and-mortar retailer. Meanwhile, another part of the advantage of online shopping is the ease of comparison shopping: consumers don’t even have to close an Amazon window on their computers to check alternatives, prices, and availability elsewhere. All of this undermines the claim that one-stop shopping is a defining characteristic of the alleged market.[11]

The Report also appears to ignore the competitive constraints imposed by brick-and-mortar retailers, especially if Amazon or MeLi tried to exploit their market power. Of course, how many consumers might switch, and the extent to which that would affect the marketplaces, are empirical questions. But there is no question that some consumers might switch. In that respect, it is important to remember that competition takes place on the margins. Accordingly, it is not necessary for all consumers to switch to affect a company’s sales and profits.

The report does mention selling through social media but does not include such sales in the relevant market. We think that social media should as a sales channel should be considered as reasonable substitute for Amazon and MeLi, considering the fact that 85% of small and medium enterprises turned to Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp during the Covid-19 pandemic to advertise and sell their products.[12] The Commercial Guide for Mexico published by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration reports that “Mexican buyers are highly influenced by social networks when making purchases. Forty-three percent of eCommerce buyers have bought via Conversational Commerce or C-commerce (selling via Facebook or WhatsApp), and 29 percent through “lives” or livestreams”.[13]

There is also empirical evidence that Amazon not only competes, but competes intensively with other distribution channels, and has a net-positive welfare effect on Mexican consumers. A 2022 paper[14] found that:

  1. E-commerce and brick-and-mortar retailers in Mexico operate in a single, highly competitive retail market; and
  2. Amazon’s entry has generated a significant pro-competitive effect by reducing brick-and-mortar retail prices and increasing product selection for Mexican consumers.

The paper finds the market entry of products sold and delivered by Amazon gave rise to price reductions of up to 28%.[15] In light of this evidence, we think that is wrong to assume that marketplaces like Amazon and MeLi do not compete with other retailers. The latter should thus be included in the relevant market.

As if this narrow definition were not enough, the report conflates Amazon and MeLi’s market shares, to conclude that, together, both hold more than 85% of the sales and transactions in the Relevant Seller Market during the period analyzed and the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) exceeds two thousand points (therefore, the market is highly concentrated). Likewise, in the “Relevant Buyers Market,” the HHI was estimated, for 2022, at 1,614 units and the main three participants concentrate 61% (sixty-one percent) of the market. In both markets, the other participants have a significantly smaller share.

But why combine the market share of Amazon and MeLi, as if they were acting as a single firm? Given the IO’s market definition, it must at least be the case that Amazon and MeLi at least competing with each other. The market’s continuous growth and the evolution of the companies’ respective market shares indicate that they do. A news article from 2020, for instance, reports that:

Supermarkets, department stores and digital-native chains have a common goal: to be the one that captures the most market in electronic commerce in Mexico. In this battle, Amazon and Mercado Libre take the lead, as they are the two firms that concentrate almost a quarter of the total market in this area.

At the end of 2019, Amazon had a market share of 13.4%, which placed it ahead of other competitors. That same year, Mercado Libre was with 11.4%.[16]

Also inconsistent with the hypothesis of a market with “barriers to competition” is the fact that the e-commerce market is continuously growing (and adding market players) in Mexico, which is now the second-largest e-commerce market in Latin America.[17]

It is only on the basis of this distorted depiction of the market that the Report reaches the conclusion that Amazon and MeLi have “the power to fix prices” (another form of saying “monopoly power”). Given what precedes, that conclusion should be rejected.

III. An Unwarranted Finding of a ‘Dominant Position’

Even if one accepts the Report’s market definition, and Amazon and MeLi thus have a significant market share, both firms could still face competition from new entrants, attracted to the market by the higher prices (or other “exploitative” conditions) charged to consumers. According to the Report, alas, there are various barriers to hinder “the entry and expansion” in both relevant markets. Among them, the Report mentions, for instance:

  1. Barriers to entry related to the high amounts of investment for the development of the marketplace, as well as for the development of technological tools integrated into it…. In addition, high investment amounts are required related to the development of logistics infrastructure and in working capital related to funds necessary to cover operating expenses, inventories, accounts receivable and other current liabilities; and
  2. Barriers to entry related to considerable investments in advertising, marketing and public relations. To attract a significant number of buyers and sellers to the platform that guarantees the success of the business, it is imperative to have a well-positioned, recognized brand with a good reputation.

Contrary to what the report claims, however, these are costs, not “barriers to entry.” As Richard Posner convincingly explained, the term “barrier to entry” is commonly used to describe any obstacle or cost faced by entrants. [18] But by this definition (embraced by the Report, apparently), any cost is a barrier to entry. Relying on George Stigler’s more precise definition, Posner suggested defining a barrier to entry as “a condition that imposes higher long-run costs of production on a new entrant than are borne by the firms already in the market.”[19] In other words, properly understood, a barrier to entry is a cost borne by new entrants that was not borne by incumbents.

The authority’s definition of barriers to entry is also at odds with the definition given by the Section IV of Article 3 of the Mexican Competition Act, according to which a barrier to competition is:

Any structural market characteristic, act or deed performed by Economic Agents with the purpose or effect of impeding access to competitors or limit their ability to compete in the markets; which impedes or distorts the process of competition and free market access, as well as any legal provision issued by any level of government that unduly impedes or distorts the process of competition and free market access.

Of course, Amazon and MeLi have some advantages over other firms in terms of their infrastructure, know-how, scale, and goodwill. But those advantages didn’t fall from the sky. Amazon and MeLi built them over time, investing (and continuing to invest) often enormous amounts to do so. Even “network effects” often considered as an inevitable source of monopoly, are not a definite obstacle to competition. As Evans and Schmalensee, have pointed out:

Systematic research on online platforms by several authors, including one of us, shows considerable churn in leadership for online platforms over periods shorter than a decade. Then there is the collection of dead or withered platforms that dot this sector, including Blackberry and Windows in smartphone operating systems, AOL in messaging, Orkut in social networking, and Yahoo in mass online media.[20]

The notion that Amazon and MeLi are shielded by barriers to entry is also contradicted by the entry of new rivals, such as Shein and Temu.

As explained above, the Report also erroneously conflates the market shares of Mercado Libre and Amazon, to reach a combined market share of 85% (eighty-five percent) of sales and transactions in the Sellers Relevant Market; and then combines the market share of the main three market participants in the Buyers Relevant Market to reach a market share of 61% (sixty-one percent) of the market. This is highly problematic as those firms are not a single economic entity, they thus presumably compete against each other.

If anything, the market shares produced by the Report only lead to a high HHI, which in turn shows that the market is “highly concentrated” (if one accepts the Report’s narrow market definition). But concentration is a poor proxy for market power. Economists have been studying the relationship between concentration and various potential indicia of anticompetitive effects—price, markup, profits, rate of return, etc.—for decades, and the empirical evidence is more than enough to say that concentration could lead to competition problems. [21] It is not per se evidence of a lack of competition, let alone a dominant position.

As Chad Syverson recently summarized:

Perhaps the deepest conceptual problem with concentration as a measure of market power is that it is an outcome, not an immutable core determinant of how competitive an industry or market is… As a result, concentration is worse than just a noisy barometer of market power. Instead, we cannot even generally know which way the barometer is oriented.[22]

IV. The Proposed Remedies Would Harm, Rather than Benefit, Consumers

Even if one accepts the Report’s suggested market definition and its assessment of market power, the report’s proposed remedies—which could be summarized as the mandated unbundling of Amazon’s and MeLi’s streaming services from their loyalty programs (like Amazon’s Prime) and to make (at least part of) their platforms “interoperable” with other logistic services—would harm consumers, rather than benefit them.

Amazon Prime, for instance, provides consumers with many attractive benefits: access to video and music streaming; special deals and discounts; and last, but not least, two-day free shipping. According to the Report, “this is an artificial strategy that attracts and retains buyers and, at the same time, hinders buyers and sellers from using alternative marketplaces.”

It’s not entirely clear what “artificial” means in this context, but it appears to imply something outside of the bounds of “normal” competition. Yet what the Report describes is the very definition of competition. Firms competing in a market always choose to combine a “bundle” of features into a single product. They to some extent “bet” on a bundle of features (functionality, materials, terms and conditions) that imply assuming some costs, that they later offer at a given price, that may be met by willing customers (or not). Even with imperfect information, markets (that is, sellers and customers) are the best qualified agents to “decide” the appropriate level of “bundling” on a product, not competition agencies or courts.

A mandate to unbundle streaming services would degrade the online experience of consumers, who would instead have to contract and pay for those services separately.[23] The independent provision of such services would not benefit from Amazon’s or MeLi’s economies of scale and scope and would, therefore, be more expensive. And providing more benefits for consumers at a given price is what we want competitors to do. Treating consumer benefit as a harm turns competition enforcement—and, indeed, the very notion of competition itself—on its head.

The report also proposes to open the Buy Box and modifying its rules so as to be neutral to all logistics providers. This effectively amounts to treating Amazon and MeLi as “common carriers,” like regulators did with telephone networks from the 20th century onwards. Unfortunately, this classification and the rules that follow from it (neutrality and price regulation, among others) was designed for markets with natural monopolies—where competition is not possible or even undesirable[24]—but there is no evidence to suggest this is the case in the case at hand. Instead, Digital platform markets are far more competitive. Given this, common-carrier rules would only foster free riding and dampen incentives to invest and innovate (for both incumbents and new entrants). Sellers and logistics providers have many other options to access consumers. There is no economic or legal justification to mandate their access to Amazon or MeLi’s platforms.

In sum, the Report’s flawed findings lead to even worse remedies. Such remedies would neither promote competition in Mexico nor benefit consumers.

[1] The full text of the report (public version), available at https://www.cofece.mx/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Dictamen_Preliminar_Version_Publica.pdf.

[2] Mexican Competition Act. Article 2. “The purpose of this Law is to promote, protect and guarantee free market access and economic competition, as well as to prevent, investigate, combat, prosecute effectively, severely punish and eliminate monopolies, monopolistic practices, unlawful concentrations, barriers to entry and to economic competition, as well as other restrictions to the efficient operation of markets.”

[3] ¿Qué Tan Popular es el Marketplace de Amazon en México?, La Patria (Apr. 23, 2023), https://www.lapatria.com/publirreportaje/que-tan-popular-es-el-marketplace-de-amazon-en-mexico. Free translation of the following text in Spanish: “La popularidad del mercado de Amazon en México se basa en gran medida en la satisfacción de los clientes. Amazon es la segunda plataforma de comercio electrónico más apreciada en México, según una encuesta de Kantar, con un índice de satisfacción de 8,5 sobre 10. Los comentarios de los consumidores también son esenciales para el éxito del mercado de Amazon, ya que permiten a los compradores realizar compras acertadas. Las opiniones de los consumidores también son esenciales para el éxito del mercado de Amazon, ya que permiten a los compradores realizar compras acertadas. Las buenas opiniones ponen de relieve la rapidez y fiabilidad de Amazon.”

[4] Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones, Uso y Satisfacción de las Aplicaciones y Herramientas Digitales para Compras y Banca en Línea, Videollamadas, Redes Sociales, Salud y Trámites Gubernamentales en Tiempos de Covid-19, Adopción (Jan 19, 2022), available at https://www.ift.org.mx/sites/default/files/contenidogeneral/usuarios-y-audiencias/aplicacionesyherramientasdigitalesentiemposdecovid19.pdf.

[5] The “Buy Box” is a box, normally found on the right side of a marketplace product page after the clients search for a product. Being in this box is an advantage for the seller because it not only highlights its product, but also makes the payment process easier. This is, of course, also an advantage for consumers, who can find and buy products faster.

[6] See https://www.ftc.gov/legal-library/browse/cases-proceedings/1910129-1910130-amazoncom-inc-amazon-ecommerce.

[7] Geoffrey A. Manne, Gerrymandered Market Definitions in FTC v. Amazon,  (Jan. 26, 2024), https://laweconcenter.org/resources/gerrymandered-market-definitions-in-ftc-v-amazon.

[8] See, e.g., Krystal Hu & Arriana McLymore, Exclusive: Fast-Fashion Giant Shein Plans Mexico Factory, Reuters (May 24, 2023), https://www.reuters.com/business/retail-consumer/fast-fashion-giant-shein-plans-mexico-factory-sources-2023-05-24.

[9] See, e.g., Rising E-commerce Star: The Emergence of Temu in Mexico, BNN (Sep. 25, 2023), https://bnnbreaking.com/finance-nav/rising-e-commerce-star-the-emergence-of-temu-in-mexico.

[10] Manne, supra note 7.

[11] Id.

[12] El 85% de las Pymes USA Redes Sociales para Vender en Línea, Expansión (Jul. 28, 2021), https://expansion.mx/tecnologia/2021/07/28/el-85-de-las-pymes-usa-redes-sociales-para-vender-en-linea.

[13] Mexico – Country Commercial Guide, International Trade Organization (Nov. 5, 2023), https://www.trade.gov/country-commercial-guides/mexico-ecommerce.

[14] Raymundo Campos Vázquez et al., Amazon’s Effect on Prices: The Case of Mexico, Centro de Estudios Económicos, Documentos de Trabajo, Nro. II (2022), available at https://cee.colmex.mx/dts/2022/DT-2022-2.pdf.

[15] Id., at 23.

[16] Amazon y Mercado Libre se Disputan la Corona del Comercio Electrónico en México, El CEO (Mar 17, 2020), https://elceo.com/negocios/amazon-y-mercado-libre-se-discuten-la-corona-del-comercio-electronico-en-mexico. Free translation of the following text, in Spanish: “Cadenas de autoservicios, departamentales y nativas digitales tienen un objetivo en común: ser quien acapare más mercado en el comercio electrónico en México. En esta batalla, Amazon y Mercado Libre se ponen a la cabeza, pues son las dos firmas que concentran casi un cuarto del total de mercado de este rubro. Al cierre de 2019, Amazon contaba con un cuota de mercado del 13.4%, que lo colocaba al frente de los demás competidores. Ese mismo año, con 11.4% se encontraba Mercado Libre.”

[17] Stephanie Chevalier, E-commerce Market Share in Latin American and the Caribbean 2023, By Country, Statista (Mar. 25, 2024), https://www.statista.com/statistics/434042/mexico-most-visited-retail-websites (“Over the last few years, online buying and selling have gained considerable ground in Mexico, so much so that the country has positioned itself as the second largest e-commerce market in Latin America. With a rapidly increasing online buying population, it was forecast that nearly 70 million Mexicans would be shopping on the internet in 2023, a figure that would grow by over 26 percent by 2027.”).

[18] Richard Posner, Antitrust Law (2nd. Ed. 2001), at 73-74.

[19] Id., at 74.

[20] David S. Evans & Richard Schmalensee, Debunking the “Network Effects” Bogeyman, Regulation (Winter 2017-2018), at 39, available at https://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/regulation/2017/12/regulation-v40n4-1.pdf.

[21] For a few examples from a very large body of literature, seee.g., Steven Berry, Martin Gaynor, & Fiona Scott Morton, Do Increasing Markups Matter? Lessons from Empirical Industrial Organization, 33J. Econ. Perspectives 44 (2019); Richard Schmalensee, Inter-Industry Studies of Structure and Performance, in 2 Handbook of Industrial Organization 951-1009 (Richard Schmalensee & Robert Willig, eds., 1989); William N. Evans, Luke M. Froeb, & Gregory J. Werden, Endogeneity in the Concentration-Price Relationship: Causes, Consequences, and Cures, 41 J. Indus. Econ. 431 (1993); Steven Berry, Market Structure and Competition, Redux, FTC Micro Conference (Nov. 2017), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_events/1208143/22_-_steven_berry_keynote.pdf; Nathan Miller, et al., On the Misuse of Regressions of Price on the HHI in Merger Review, 10 J. Antitrust Enforcement 248 (2022).

[22] Chad Syverson, Macroeconomics and Market Power: Context, Implications, and Open Questions 33 J. Econ. Persp. 23 (2019), at 26.

[23] See, relatedly, Alden Abbott, FTC’s Amazon Complaint: Perhaps the Greatest Affront to Consumer and Producer Welfare in Antitrust History, Truth on the Market (Sep. 27, 2023), https://truthonthemarket.com/2023/09/27/ftcs-amazon-complaint-perhaps-the-greatest-affront-to-consumer-and-producer-welfare-in-antitrust-history.

[24] See, e.g., Giuseppe Colangelo & Oscar Borgogno, App Stores as Public Utilities?, Truth on the Market (Jan. 19, 2022), https://truthonthemarket.com/2022/01/19/app-stores-as-public-utilities.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

ICLE Comments on India’s Draft Digital Competition Act

Regulatory Comments A year after it was created by the Government of India’s Ministry of Corporate Affairs to examine the need for a separate law on competition . . .

A year after it was created by the Government of India’s Ministry of Corporate Affairs to examine the need for a separate law on competition in digital markets, India’s Committee on Digital Competition Law (CDCL) in February both published its report[1] recommending adoption of such rules and submitted the draft Digital Competition Act (DCA), which is virtually identical to the European Union’s Digital Markets Act (DMA).[2]

The EU has touted its new regulation as essential to ensure “fairness and contestability” in digital markets. And since it entered into force early last month,[3] the DMA has imposed strict pre-emptive rules on so-called digital “gatekeepers,”[4] a cohort of mostly American tech giants like Google, Amazon, Apple, Meta, and Microsoft.

But despite the impressive public-relations campaign[5] that the DMA’s proponents have been able to mount internationally, India should be wary of reflexively importing these ready-made and putatively infallible solutions that promise to “fix” the world’s most successful digital platforms at little or no cost.

I. Not So Fast

The first question India should ask itself is why?[6] Echoing the European Commission, the CDCL argues that strict ex-ante rules are needed because competition-law investigations in digital markets are too time-consuming. But this could be a feature, not a bug, of competition law. Digital markets often involve novel business models and zero or low-price products, meaning that there is nearly always a plausible pro-competitive explanation for the impugned conduct.

When designing rules and presumptions in a world of imperfect information, the general theme is that, as confidence in public harm goes up, the evidentiary burden must go down. This is why antitrust law tilts the field in the enforcer’s favor in cases involving practices that are known to always, or almost always, be harmful. But none of the conduct covered by the DCA falls into this category. Unlike with, say, price-fixing cartels or territorial divisions, there is currently no consensus that the practices the DMA would prohibit are generally harmful or anticompetitive. To the contrary, when assessing a self-preferencing case against Google in 2018, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) found important consumer benefits[7] that outweighed any inconveniences they may impose on competitors.

By imposing per se rules with no scope for consumer-welfare or efficiency exemptions, the DCA could capture swaths of procompetitive conduct. This is a steep—and possibly irrational—price to pay for administrative expediency. Rather than adopt a “speed-at-all-costs” approach, India should design its rules to minimize error costs and ensure the system’s overall efficiency.

II. The Costs of Ignoring Cost-Benefit Analysis

But this cannot be done, or it cannot be done rationally, unless India is crystal clear about what the costs and benefits of digital-competition regulation are. As things stand, it is unclear whether this question has been given sufficient thought.

For one, the DCA’s goals do not seem to align well with competition law. While competition law protects competition for the ultimate benefit of consumers, the DCA—like the DMA—is concerned with aiding rivals, rather than benefiting consumers. Unmooring digital competition regulation from consumer welfare is ill-advised. It opens the enforcer to aggressive rent seeking by private parties with a vested interest in never being satisfied,[8] who may demand far-reaching product-design changes that don’t jibe with what consumers—i.e., the public at-large—actually want.

Indeed, when the system’s lodestar shifts from benefiting consumers to facilitating competitors, there is a risk that the only tangible measure of the law’s success will be the extent to which rivals are satisfied[9] with gatekeepers’ product-design changes, and their relative market-share fluctuations. Sure enough, the European Commission recently cited stakeholders’ dissatisfaction[10] as one of the primary reasons to launch five DMA noncompliance investigations, mere weeks after the law’s entry into force. In the DCA’s case, the Central Government’s ability to control CCI decisions further exacerbates the risk of capture and political decision making.

While digital-competition regulation’s expected benefits remain unclear and difficult to measure, there are at least three concrete types of costs that India can, and should, consider.

First, there is the cost of harming consumers and diminishing innovation. Mounting evidence from the EU demonstrates this to be a very real risk. For example, Meta’s Threads was delayed[11] in the EU block due to uncertainties about compliance with the DMA. The same happened with Gemini, Google’s AI program.[12] Some product functionalities have also been degraded. For instance, in order to comply with the DMA’s strict self-preferencing prohibitions, maps that appear in Google’s search results no longer link to Google Maps, much to the chagrin of European users.[13]

Google has also been forced to remove[14] features like hotel bookings and reviews from its search results. Until it can accommodate competitors who offer similar services (assuming that is even possible), these specialized search results will remain buried several clicks away from users’ general searches. Not only is this inconvenient for consumers, but it has important ramifications for business users.

Early estimates suggest that clicks from Google ads to hotel websites decreased by 17.6%[15]as a result of the DMA. Meanwhile, on iOS, rivals like Meta[16] and Epic Games[17] are finding it harder than they expected to offer competing app stores or payment services. At least some of this is due to the reality that offering safe online services is a costly endeavour. Apple reviews millions of apps every year[18] to weed out bad actors, and replicating this business is easier said than done. In other words, the DMA is falling short even on its own terms.

In other cases, consumers are likely to be saddled with a litany of pointless choices, as well as changes in product design that undermine user experience. For example, the European Commission appears to believe that the best way to ensure that Apple doesn’t favor its own browser on iOS is by requiring consumers to sift through 12 browser offerings[19] presented on a choice screen.[20] But consumers haven’t asked for this “choice.” The simple explanation for the policy’s failure is that, despite the DMA’s insistence to the contrary, users were always free to choose their preferred browser.

Supporters of digital-competition regulation will no doubt retort that India should also consider the costs of inaction. This is certainly true. But it should do so against the background of the existing legal framework, not a hypothetical legal and regulatory vacuum. Digital platforms are already subject to general (and fully functional) competition law, as well as to a range of other sector-specific regulations.

For instance, Amazon and Flipkart are precluded by India’s foreign-direct-investment (FDI) policy from offering first-party sales[21] to end-users on their e-commerce platforms. In addition, the CCI has launched several investigations of digital-platform conduct that would presumably be caught by the DCA, including by Google,[22] Amazon,[23] Meta,[24] Apple,[25] and Flipkart.[26]

The facile dichotomy made between digital-competition regulation and “the digital wild west[27] is essentially a red herring. Nobody is saying that digital platforms should be above the law. Rather, the question is whether a special competition law is necessary and justified considering the costs such a law would engender, as well as the availability of other legal and regulatory instruments to tackle the same conduct.

This is particularly the case when these legal and regulatory instruments incorporate time-honed analytical tools, heuristics, and procedural safeguards. In 2019, India’s Competition Law Review Committee[28] concluded that a special law was unnecessary. In a report titled “Competition Policy for the Digital Era,”[29] a panel of experts retained by the European Commission reached the same conclusion.

Complicating the question further still is that the DCA would mark a paradigm shift for Indian competition policy. In 2000, the Raghavan Committee Report was crucial in aligning Indian competition law with international best practices, including by moving analysis away from blunt structural presumptions and toward the careful observance of economic effects. As such, it paved the way for the 2002 Competition Act—a milestone of Indian law.

The DCA, by contrast, would overturn these advancements to target companies based on size, obviating any effects analysis. This would amount to taking Indian competition law back to the era of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act of 1969 (MRTP). Again, is the hodgepodge of products and services known collectively as “digital markets” sufficiently unique to warrant such a drastic deviation from well-established antitrust doctrine?

The third group of costs that the government must consider are the DCA’s enforcement costs. The five DMA noncompliance investigations launched recently by the European Commission have served to dispel the once-common belief that the law would be “self-executing[30] and that its enforcement would be collaborative, rather than adversarial. With just 80 dedicated staff,[31] many believe the Commission is understaffed[32] to enforce the DMA (initially, the most optimistic officials asked for 220 full-time employees).[33] If the EU—a sprawling regulatory superstate[34]—struggles to find the capacity to deploy digital-competition rules, can India expect to fare any better?

Enforcing the DCA would require expertise in a range of fields, including competition law, data privacy and security, telecommunications, and consumer protection, among others. Either India can produce these new experts, or it will have to siphon them from somewhere else. This raises the question of opportunity costs. Assuming that India even can build a team to enforce the DCA, the government would also need to be reasonably certain that, given the significant overlaps in expertise, these resources wouldn’t yield better returns if allocated elsewhere—such as, for example, in the fight against cartels or other more obviously nefarious conduct.

In short, if the government cannot answer the question of how much the Indian public stands to gain for every Rupee of public money invested into enforcing the DCA, it should go back to the drawing board and either redesign or drop the DCA altogether.

III. India Is Not Europe

When deciding whether to adopt digital-competition rules, India should consider its own interests and play to its strengths. These need not be the same as Europe’s and, indeed, it would be surprising if they were. Despite the European Commission’s insistence to the contrary, the DMA is not a law that enshrines general or universal economic truths. It is, and always has been, an industrial policy tool,[35] designed to align with the EU’s strengths, weaknesses, and strategic priorities. One cannot just assume that these idiosyncrasies translate into the Indian context.

As International Center for Law & Economics President Geoffrey Manne has written,[36] promotion of investment in the infrastructure required to facilitate economic growth and provision of a secure environment for ongoing innovation are both crucial to the success of developing markets like India’s. Securing these conditions demands dynamic and flexible competition policymaking.

For young, rapidly growing industries like e-commerce and other digital markets, it is essential to attract consistent investment and industry know-how in order to ensure that such markets are able to innovate and evolve to meet consumer demand. India has already witnessed a few leading platforms help build the necessary infrastructure during the nascent stages of sectoral development; continued investment along these lines will be essential to ensure continued consumer benefits.

In the above context, emulating the EU’s DMA approach could be a catastrophic mistake. Indian digital platforms are still not as mature as the EU’s, and a copy and paste of the DMA may prove unfit for the particular attributes of India’s market. The DCA could potentially capture many Indian companies. Paytm, Zomato, Ola Cabs, Nykaa, AllTheRooms, Squeaky, FlipCarK, MakeMyTrip, and Meesho (among others) are some of the companies that could be stifled by this new regulatory straitjacket.

This would not only harm India’s competitiveness, but would also deny consumers important benefits. Despite India’s remarkable economic growth over the last decade, it remains underserved by the most powerful consumer and business technologies, relative to its peers in Europe and North America. The priority should be to continue to attract and nurture investment, not to impose regulations that may further slow the deployment of critical infrastructure.

Indeed, this also raises the question of whether the EU’s objectives with the DMA are even ones that India would want to emulate. While the DMA’s effects are likely to be varied, it is clear that one major impetus for the law is distributional: to ensure that platform users earn a “fair share” of the benefits they generate. Such an approach could backfire, however, as using competition policy to reduce profits may simply lead to less innovation and significantly reduced benefits for the very consumers it is supposed to help. This risk is significantly magnified in India, where the primary need is to ensure the introduction and maintenance of innovative technology, rather than fine tuning the precise distribution of its rewards.

A DMA-like approach could imperil the domestic innovation that has been the backbone of initiatives like Digital India[37] and Startup India.[38] Implementation of a DMA-like regime would discourage growing companies that may not be able to cope with the increased compliance burden. It would also impose enormous regulatory burdens on the government and great uncertainty for businesses, as a DMA-like regime would require the government to define and quantify competitive benchmarks for industries that have not yet even grown out of their nascent stages. At a crucial juncture when India is seen as an investment-friendly nation,[39] implementation of a DMA-like regime could create significant roadblocks to investment—all without any obligation on the part of the government to ensure that consumers benefit.

This is because ex-ante regimes impose preemptive constraints on digital platforms, with no consideration of possible efficiencies that benefit consumers. While competition enforcement in general may tend to promote innovation, jurisdictions that do not allow for efficiency defenses tend to produce relatively less innovation, as careful, case-by-case competition enforcement is replaced with preemptive prohibitions that impede experimentation.

Regulation of digital markets that have yet to reach full maturity is bound to create a more restrictive environment that will harm economic growth, technological advancement, and investment. For India, it is crucial that a nuanced approach is taken to ensure that digital markets can sustain their momentum, without being bogged down by various and unnecessary compliance requirements that are likely to do more harm than good.

IV. Conclusion

In a multi-polar world, developing countries can no longer be expected to mechanically adopt the laws and regulations demanded of them by senior partners to trade agreements and international organizations. Nor should they blindly defer to foreign legislatures, who may (and likely do) have vastly different interests and priorities than their own.

Nobody is denying that the EU has provided many useful legal and regulatory blueprints in the past, many of which work just as well abroad as they do at home. But based on what we know so far, the DMA is not poised to become one of them. It is overly stringent, ignores efficiencies, is indifferent about effects on consumers, incorporates few procedural safeguards, is lukewarm on cost-benefit analysis, and risks subverting well-established competition-law principles. These notably include that the law should ultimately protect competition, not competitors.

Rather than instinctively playing catch up, India could ask the hard questions that the EU eschewed for the sake of a quick political victory against popular bogeymen. What is this law trying to achieve? What are the DCA’s supposed benefits? What are its potential costs? Do those benefits outweigh those costs? If the answer to these questions is ambivalent or negative, India’s digital future may well lay elsewhere.

[1] Report of the Committee on Digital Competition Law, Government of India Ministry of Corporate Affairs (Feb. 27, 2024), https://www.mca.gov.in/bin/dms/getdocument?mds=gzGtvSkE3zIVhAuBe2pbow%253D%253D&type=open.

[2] Regulation (EU) 2022/1925 of the European Parliament and of the Council, on contestable and fair markets in the digital sector and amending Directives (EU) 2019/1937 and (EU) 2020/1828 (Digital Markets Act) (Text with EEA relevance), Official Journal of the European Union, available at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32022R1925.

[3] Press Release, Designated Gatekeepers Must Now Comply With All Obligations Under the Digital Markets Act, European Commission (Mar. 7, 2024), https://digital-markets-act.ec.europa.eu/designated-gatekeepers-must-now-comply-all-obligations-under-digital-markets-act-2024-03-07_en.

[4] Press Release, Digital Markets Act: Commission Designates Six Gatekeepers, European Commission (Sep. 6, 2023), https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_23_4328.

[5] Press Release, Cade and European Commission Discuss Collaboration on Digital Market Agenda Ministério da Justiça e Segurança Pública (Mar. 29, 2023), https://www.gov.br/cade/en/matters/news/cade-and-european-commission-discuss-collaboration-on-digital-market-agenda.

[6] Summary of Remarks by Jean Tirole, Analysis Group (Sep. 27, 2018), available at https://www.analysisgroup.com/globalassets/uploadedimages/content/insights/ag_features/summary-of-remarks-by-jean-tirole_english.pdf.

[7] Geoffrey A. Manne, Google’s India Case and a Return to Consumer-Focused Antitrust, Truth on the Market (Feb. 8, 2018), https://truthonthemarket.com/2018/02/08/return-to-consumer-focused-antitrust-in-india.

[8] Adam Kovacevich, The Digital Markets Act’s “Statler & Waldorf” Problem, Chamber of Progress, Medium (Mar. 7, 2024), https://medium.com/chamber-of-progress/the-digital-markets-acts-statler-waldorf-problem-2c9b6786bb55.

[9] Id.

[10] Remarks by Executive-Vice President Vestager and Commissioner Breton on the Opening of Non-Compliance Investigations Under the Digital Markets Act, European Commission (Mar. 25, 2024), https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/speech_24_1702.

[11] Makena Kelly, Here’s Why Threads Is Delayed in Europe, The Verge (Jul. 10, 2023), https://www.theverge.com/23789754/threads-meta-twitter-eu-dma-digital-markets.

[12] Andrew Grush, Did You Know Google Gemini Isn’t Available in Europe Yet?, Android Authority (Dec. 7, 2023), https://www.androidauthority.com/did-you-know-google-gemini-isnt-available-in-europe-yet-3392451.

[13] Edith Hancock, ‘Severe Pain in the Butt’: EU’s Digital Competition Rules Make New Enemies on the Internet, Politico (Mar. 25, 2024), https://www.politico.eu/article/european-union-digital-markets-act-google-search-malicious-compliance.

[14] Oliver Bethell, An Update on Our Preparations for the DMA, Google Blog (Jan. 17, 2024), https://blog.google/around-the-globe/google-europe/an-update-on-our-preparations-for-the-dma.

[15] Mirai, Linkedin (Apr. 17, 2024), https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:7161330551709138945.

[16] Alex Heath, Meta Says Apple Has Made It ‘Very Difficult’ To Build Rival App Stores in the EU, The Verge (Feb. 2, 2024), https://www.theverge.com/2024/2/1/24058572/zuckerberg-meta-apple-app-store-iphone-eu-sideloading.

[17] Id.

[18] 2022 App Store Transparency Report, Apple Inc. (2023), available at https://www.apple.com/legal/more-resources/docs/2022-App-Store-Transparency-Report.pdf.

[19] About the Browser Choice Screen in iOS 17, Apple Developer, (Feb. 2024), https://developer.apple.com/support/browser-choice-screen.

[20] Remarks by Executive-Vice President Vestager and Commissioner Breton on the Opening of Non-Compliance Investigations Under the Digital Markets Act, EUROPEAN COMMISSION, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/speech_24_1702.

[21] Saheli Roy Choudhury, If You Hold Amazon Shares, Here’s What You Need to Know About India’s E-Commerce Law, CNBC (Feb. 4, 2019), https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/05/amazon-how-india-ecommerce-law-will-affect-the-retailer.html.

[22] Press Release, CCI Imposes a Monetary Penalty of Rs.1337.76 Crore on Google for Anti-Competitive Practices in Relation to Android Mobile Devices, Competition Commission of India (Oct. 20, 2022), https://www.cci.gov.in/antitrust/press-release/details/261/0; CCI Orders Probe Into Google’s Play Store Billing Policies, The Economic Times, (Sep. 7, 2023), https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/startups/competition-watchdog-orders-probe-into-googles-play-store-billing-policies/articleshow/108528079.cms.

[23] Why Competition Commission of India Is Investigating Amazon, Outlook, (May. 1, 2022), https://business.outlookindia.com/news/explained-why-is-competition-commission-of-india-probing-amazon-news-194362.

[24] HC Dismisses Facebook India’s Plea Challenging CCI Probe Into Whatsapp’s 2021 Privacy Policy, The Economic Times (Sep. 7, 2023), https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/technology/women-participation-in-tech-roles-in-non-tech-sectors-to-grow-by-24-3-by-2027-report/articleshow/109374509.cms.

[25] Case No. 24 of 2021, Competition Commission of India, (Dec. 31, 2021), https://www.cci.gov.in/antitrust/orders/details/32/0.

[26] Supra note 23.

[27] Anne C. Witt, The Digital Markets Act: Regulating the Wild West, 60(3) Common Market Law Review 625 (2023).

[28] Report of Competition Law Review Committee, Indian Economic Service (Jul. 2019), available at https://www.ies.gov.in/pdfs/Report-Competition-CLRC.pdf.

[29] Jacques Crémer, Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, & Heike Schweitzer, Competition Policy for the Digital Era, European Commission Directorate-General for Competition (2019), https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2763/407537.

[30] Strengthening the Digital Markets Act and Its Enforcement, Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Klimaschutz (Sep. 7, 2021), available at https://www.bmwk.de/Redaktion/DE/Downloads/XYZ/zweites-gemeinsames-positionspapier-der-friends-of-an-effective-digital-markets-act.pdf.

[31] Meghan McCarty Carino, A New EU Law Aims to Tame Tech Giants. But Enforcing It Could Turn out to Be Tricky Marketplace (Mar. 7, 2024), https://www.marketplace.org/2024/03/07/a-new-eu-law-aims-to-tame-tech-giants-but-enforcing-it-could-turn-out-to-be-tricky.

[32] Id.

[33] Luca Bertuzzi & Molly Killeen, Digital Brief: DSA Fourth Trilogue, DMA Diverging Views, France’s Fine for Google, EurActiv (Apr. 1, 2022), https://www.euractiv.com/section/digital/news/digital-brief-dsa-fourth-trilogue-dma-diverging-views-frances-fine-for-google.

[34] Anu Bradford, The Brussels Effect: The Rise of a Regulatory Superstate in Europe, Columbia Law School (Jan. 8, 2013), https://www.law.columbia.edu/news/archive/brussels-effect-rise-regulatory-superstate-europe.

[35] Lazar Radic, Gatekeeping, the DMA, and the Future of Competition Regulation, Truth on the Market (Nov. 8, 2023), https://truthonthemarket.com/2023/11/08/gatekeeping-the-dma-and-the-future-of-competition-regulation.

[36] Geoffrey A. Manne, European Union’s Digital Markets Act Not Suitable for Developing Economies, Including India, The Times of India (Feb. 14, 2023), https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/voices/european-unions-digital-markets-act-not-suitable-for-developing-economies-including-india.

[37] Digital India, Common Services Centre (Apr. 18, 2024), https://csc.gov.in/digitalIndia.

[38] Startup India, Government of India (Apr. 16, 2024), https://www.startupindia.gov.in.

[39] Invest India, Government of India (Mar. 20, 2024), https://www.investindia.gov.in/why-india.

 

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Children’s Online Safety and Privacy Legislation

TL;DR TL;DR Background: There has been recent legislative movement on a pair of major bills related to children’s online safety and privacy. H.R. 7891, the Kids . . .

TL;DR

Background: There has been recent legislative movement on a pair of major bills related to children’s online safety and privacy. H.R. 7891, the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) has 62 cosponsors in the U.S. Senate. Meanwhile, H.R. 7890, the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA 2.0) also has bipartisan support within the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee. At the time of publication, these and a slate of other bills related to children’s online safety and privacy were scheduled to be marked up April 17 by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee.

But… If enacted, the primary effect of these bills is likely to be less free online content for minors. Raising the regulatory burdens on online platforms that host minors, as well as restricting creators’ ability to monetize their content, are both likely to yield greater investment in identifying and excluding minors from online spaces, rather than creating safe and vibrant online ecosystems and content that cater to them. In other words, these bills could lead to minors losing the many benefits of internet usage. A more cost-effective way to address potential online harms to teens and children would be to encourage parents and minors to make use of available tools to avoid those harms and to dedicate more resources to prosecuting those who use online platforms to harm minors.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

RAISING THE COST TO SERVE MINORS COULD LEAD TO THEIR EXCLUSION

If the costs of serving minors surpass the revenues that online platforms can generate from serving them, those platforms will invest in excluding underage users, rather than creating safe and vibrant content and platforms for them. 

KOSA will substantially increase the costs that online platforms bear for serving minors. The bill would require a “high impact online company” to exercise “reasonable care” in its design features to “prevent and mitigate” certain harms. These harms include certain mental-health disorders and patterns indicating or encouraging compulsive use by minors, as well as physical violence, cyberbullying, and discriminatory harassment. Moreover, KOSA requires all covered platforms to implement default safeguards to limit design features that encourage minors’ use of the platforms and to control the use of personalized recommendation systems.

RESTRICTING TARGETED ADVERTISING LEADS TO LESS FREE CONTENT

A significant portion of internet content is delivered by what economists call multisided platforms. On one side of the platform, users enjoy free access to content, while on the other side, advertisers are granted a medium to reach users. In effect, advertisers subsidize users’ access to online content. Platforms also collect data from users in order to serve them targeted ads, the most lucrative form of advertising. Without those ads, there would be less revenue to fund access to, and creation of, content. This is no less true when it comes to content of interest to minors.

COPPA 2.0 would expand the protections granted by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 to users under age 13 to also cover those between 13 and 17 years of age. Where the current law requires parental consent to collect and use persistent identifiers for “individual-specific advertising” directed to children under age 13, COPPA 2.0 would require the verifiable consent of the teen or a parent to serve such ads to teens. 

Obtaining verifiable consent has proven sufficiently costly under the current COPPA rule that almost no covered entities make efforts to obtain it. COPPA has instead largely prevented platforms from monetizing children’s content, which has meant that less of it is created. Extending the law to cover teens would generate similar results. Without the ability to serve them targeted ads, platforms will have less incentive to encourage the creation of teen-focused content.

DE-FACTO AGE VERIFICATION REQUIREMENTS

To comply with laws designed to protect minors, online platforms will need to verify whether its users are minors. While both KOSA and COPPA 2.0 disclaim establishing any age-verification requirements or the collection of any data not already collected “in the normal course of business,” they both establish constructive knowledge standards for violators (i.e., “should have known” or “knowledge fairly implied on the basis of objective circumstances”). Online platforms will need to be able to identify their users who are minors in order to comply with the prohibition on serving them personalized recommendations (KOSA) or targeted advertising (COPPA 2.0). 

Age-verification requirements have been found to violate the First Amendment, in part because they aren’t the least-restrictive means to protect children online. As one federal district court put it: “parents may rightly decide to regulate their children’s use of social media—including restricting the amount of time they spend on it, the content they may access, or even those they chat with. And many tools exist to help parents with this.”

A BETTER WAY FORWARD

Educating parents and minors about those widely available practical and technological tools to mitigate the harms of internet use is a better way to protect minors online, and would pass First Amendment scrutiny. Another way to address the problem would be to increase the resources available to law enforcement to go after predators. The Invest in Child Safety Act of 2024 is one such proposal to give overwhelmed investigators the necessary resources to combat child sexual exploitation.

For more on how to best protect minors online, see “A Law & Economics Approach to Social Media Regulation” and “A Coasean Analysis of Online Age-Verification and Parental-Consent Regimes.” 

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Innovation & the New Economy

Confronting the DMA’s Shaky Suppositions

TOTM It’s easy for politicians to make unrealistic promises. Indeed, without a healthy skepticism on the part of the public, they can grow like weeds. In . . .

It’s easy for politicians to make unrealistic promises. Indeed, without a healthy skepticism on the part of the public, they can grow like weeds. In the world of digital policy, the European Union’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) has proven fertile ground for just such promises. We’ve been told that large digital platforms are the source of many economic and social ills, and that handing more discretionary power to the government can solve these problems with no apparent side effects or costs.

Read the full piece here.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection