Economic thinking and analysis lie at the heart of the objectives and the design of the EU Digital Markets Act. However, the design of the DMA reflects a very deliberate—and reasonable—intention to ensure clarity, speed, administrability, and enforceability. In doing so, this procompetitive regulation omits several elements of standard competition law where economics has typically played a key role. Nonetheless, we believe that economic insights and analysis—including behavioural economic thinking—will continue to play an important role in enabling the DMA to achieve its ambitious and laudable goals, albeit in a somewhat different way.
This is the fifth in a series of papers prepared by a collection of economists and policy experts in the United States, the UK, and the European Union who have studied, and are committed to the improvement of, competition in digital markets. Previous papers addressed consumer protection in online markets, regulating the market for general search services, the concepts of “fairness” and “contestability” as used in the Digital Markets Act, and the use of “equitable interoperability” as a “super tool” to restore and encourage competition in online markets.
This paper is concerned with competition in digital platform markets where network effects are strong. As is widely acknowledged, these markets have an inherent tendency towards concentration, leaving consumers with little competition in the market. We explain how interoperability regulation can help stimulate competition in the market in a way that benefits consumers.
We analyze the use of the concepts of fairness and contestability in the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and propose formal definitions rooted in the economic analysis of digital markets as well as the goals of the proposed law. We discuss the implication of these concepts for innovation in digital markets.
Consumer protection law is vital for ensuring that market-based economies work in the economic interest of consumers as well as businesses, and thus to the benefit of civil society. This is the case for online markets just as it is for offline markets. However, despite broad consensus on these points, too little has been done to ensure that the various standards applicable in offline markets are sufficient or adequate to guarantee efficiency and fairness in online markets. This paper outlines eleven key features of online markets that might necessitate standards additional to or different from those that are applicable offline, and provides a menu of possible policies in relation to each. Many of these are general to all online markets, but some are specific to the largest digital platfoms. Many if not most of our policy proposals could be enacted through minor changes to existing law or regulation or through decisional law interpreting existing legislation. Some have already been implemented in some jurisdictions. What is needed in all jurisdictions, however, is a regulator or regulators with sufficient expertise around technical issues such as A/B testing and algorithmic decision-making to understand, anticipate, and remedy the myriad ways that online firms can disadvantage consumers.