Antitrust & Privacy: It's Complicated

56 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2021 Last revised: 20 Oct 2022

See all articles by James C. Cooper

James C. Cooper

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty

John M. Yun

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty

Date Written: June 22, 2021

Abstract

It has become almost an article of faith that large, zero-price platforms, such as Facebook and Google, exercise market power by offering lower levels of privacy. Yet, a rigorous examination of the assumptions underlying this data-price analogy is seriously lacking. Even more important, almost no empirical work has been done in this area. This Article contributes to the debate by filling these important gaps in the literature. After presenting a theoretical examination of the relationship between privacy and competition, we provide empirical evidence on the relationship between market power and privacy. First, using data from PrivacyGrade.org, we find no relationship between privacy grades and our proxies for market power. Second, we collected website traffic data from SimilarWeb and matched it to DuckDuckGo’s privacy ratings for sites in thirty-seven website categories. Again, the data suggest no systematic relationship between privacy ratings and market concentration. Our theoretical analysis and empirical results challenge conventional wisdom, suggesting that antitrust is a poor tool to address perceived privacy problems. Instead, if markets produce less than optimal levels of privacy, it is likely due to informational problems that have no relationship with competition. We suggest that absent specific allegations on (1) the causal link between conduct and degraded privacy, and (2) the lack of benefits from increased data collection, antitrust complaints that merely assert a causal link between privacy reductions and market power should not survive the Twombly-Iqbal plausibility standard. Further, we conclude that privacy regulation and competition policy might be complementary, but only in one direction: consumer protection designed to increase consumer access to information about firms’ privacy practices—and firms’ ability to credibly commit to these promises—could help foster competition over privacy, but the converse is not true.

Keywords: privacy, privacy ratings, market power, market concentration, antitrust, digital platform, app, Android, app marketplace, app privacy, Herfindahl-Hirschman Index

JEL Classification: K21, L12, L15, L25, L4, L41, L44, L5, D18

Suggested Citation

Cooper, James C. and Yun, John M., Antitrust & Privacy: It's Complicated (June 22, 2021). University of Illinois, Journal of Law, Technology & Policy, Vol. 2022, pp. 343-397 (2022), TPRC49: The 49th Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy, George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 21-14, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3871873 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3871873

James C. Cooper

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty ( email )

3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States
703-993-9582 (Phone)

John M. Yun (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty ( email )

3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States

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