Search, Antitrust and the Economics of the Control of User Data
73 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2013 Last revised: 14 Aug 2014
Date Written: September 24, 2013
This article is a case for reorienting many antitrust investigations -- and more generally regulatory approaches -- to focus on how control of personal data by corporations can entrench monopoly power in an economy shaped increasingly by the power of "big data." The core source of value being delivered to advertisers by a company like Google (as with many "new media" companies) is the ability to target users with ads because of its dominant control of databases of user personal data.
As section II of this article will argue, what is largely missed in analyses defending Google from antitrust action is how that ever expanding control of user personal data and its critical value to online advertisers creates an insurmountable barrier to entry for new competition. And, contra the idea that Google just inherited that business advantage through its innovation in search engine technology, section III of this article will detail how Google has aggressively expanded its control of user data through expanding into new product sectors to collect additional user data with the intent to use its presence in those other markets to reinforce its core search advertising monopoly. Beyond the general expansion into tied markets for user data, Google’s "bad acts" have included multiple violations of the law through invading user privacy in pursuit of control of user data.
In section IV, the article proposes remedies that can address Google’s dominance in three major ways, separately and in combination: (1) reduce Google’s control of overall user data, (2) create a real market for user data by empowering users, and (3) impose public interest obligations on Google to restrain damage to consumer welfare. In section V, the article concludes by noting how issues raised by the article present some fundamental challenges to the Chicago School approach, including highlighting how the lock-in of monopoly in online markets calls for earlier intervention in technology markets and a much broader recognition of how expanding information asymmetry due to data mining undermines the hope that the market itself will curb monopoly abuses in the economy.
Keywords: Google, antitrust, technology, search, information law, consumer protection, regulation, law and economics
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