Distribution, Competition, and Antitrust / IP Law

Is Privacy an Antitrust Issue?

Senator Al Franken says that the answer is “yes.”   (Hat tip to Ahmed Qadir, Director, Office of International Affairs, Competition Commission of Pakistan, for linking to the Senator’s article on the Readers of Antitrust and Competition Policy Blog group on linked in.com.)

Why?  According to the Senator,

“here’s where privacy becomes an antitrust issue.

If you don’t want your search results shared with other Google sites – if you don’t want some kind of super-profile being created for you based on everything you search, every site you surf, and every video you watch on YouTube – you will have to find a search engine that’s comparable to Google. Not easy.

If you want a free email service that doesn’t use your words to target ads to you, you’ll have to figure out how to port years and years of Gmail messages somewhere else, which is about as easy as developing your own free email service.

When a company is able to establish a dominant market position, consumers lose meaningful choices. You might not like that Facebook shares your political opinions with Politico, but are you really going to delete all the photos, all the posts, all the connections – the presence you’ve spent years establishing on the world’s dominant social network?

The more dominant these companies become over the sectors in which they operate, the less incentive they have to respect your privacy.

But the problem doesn’t stop there. Because accumulating data about you isn’t just a strange hobby for these corporations. It’s their whole business model. And you are not their client. You are their product.”

It’s an interesting argument.  The argument doesn’t reflect traditional antitrust teaching of the last 30 or so years, which focuses on the protection of competition, lower prices, and greater consumer product and service choice.  Antitrust law usually leaves consumer protection and privacy rights enforcement to other domains of the law.  My own personal view is that approach tends to be the right one, but there is certainly room for debate.

What do you think?

Related posts:

About Howard Ullman

Antitrust, competition, and IP law enthusiast.

Leave a Reply

Optimization WordPress Plugins & Solutions by W3 EDGE
%d bloggers like this: