Speaking in Brussels yesterday on “Competition and Privacy in Markets of Data,” EU Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia observed that privacy is “becoming one of the central debates of our time.”  Technological and commercial developments have strengthened companies’ ability and incentive to “gather, manipulate and trade personal data.”  Because “personal data are a type of asset for many companies,” Almunia noted that “in time, personal data may well become a competition issue.” 

For example, concentration concerns could exist if a company has “exclusive access to personal data in a given market.”  Almunia noted that the investigation of the 2008 Google-DoubleClick merger examined whether the combination of information on search behavior and web-browsing behavior would provide a competitive advantage in the advertisement business unavailable to other firms lacking similar web-usage data. 

Almunia pointed to data portability as another area that could fall under competition regulators’ purview, “if customers were prevented from switching from a company to another because they cannot carry their data along.”  Data portability is currently a significant issue of contention in Europe, in part because the proposed Data Protection Regulation would grant data subjects the right to obtain and export data in a standardized format.  Some companies in the IT sector oppose the proposed right to data portability on the ground that lock-in should not be treated as a data privacy issue, and should instead be dealt with under competition rules.