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Competition Bureau says its policies adequate to deal with big data dangers

Firms that control and exploit data can pose new challenges for competition law enforcement but is not, in itself, a cause for concern


February 19, 2018
The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press

OTTAWA—Canada’s competition regulator says it’s not the size of the data, but the size of the deception that it must guard against as it considers protecting innovation and competition in a marketplace where big data is seen as a growing concern.

It says in a new report the emergence of firms that control and exploit vast quantities of data can pose new challenges for competition law enforcement but is not, in itself, a cause for concern.

The calming conclusion comes less than two weeks after a top Bank of Canada official warned of potential anti-trust and competition law risks related to the growing dominance of a handful of big firms in the digital economy and their monopoly over user data.

Senior deputy governor Carolyn Wilkins said in a speech that policy adjustments should be a priority for governments concerned about the market power from control of consumer data of certain companies.

She noted that the world’s five biggest technology companies have a market capitalization of about US$3.5 trillion—almost one-fifth of the size of the U.S. economy.

However, the Competition Bureau says it must strike a balance between preventing behaviour that harms competition and over-enforcement that chills innovation and dynamic competition, even in cases involving big data.

It says an agreement amongst competitors to form a cartel or a company’s decision to engage in deceptive marketing, for example, are harmful regardless of whether their implementation resulted from the application of mountains of data.

“Deception harms consumers no matter whether that deception makes use of data, or whether it results in the collection of more data from consumers,” it says in the report.

“Although big data may implicate somewhat specialized and less familiar tools and methods, the traditional framework of competition law enforcement can usefully continue to guide the bureau’s work.”

The report follows the release of a white paper by the bureau last September and a public response period.