Digitalization has brought about a new challenge for the competition authorities around the world. Digital platforms can engage a large number of users and complementors and wield enormous economic and social power through algorithmic collusion, personalized pricing, control of consumer choice, and other features which the ‘automatic pilot’ enables.
Antitrust authorities are supposed to regulate digital giants and other actors of the digital economy, but the economics of digital platforms and platform ecosystems is not sufficiently understood and some of its parts are even perceived by regulators as a ‘black box’.
Historically, antitrust emerged as a solution to complex economic puzzles. Back in the late 19th century, the Standard Oil trust took over most oil refineries in the U.S. by constantly reorganizing their business and adapting to the new regulatory environment. The Encyclopedia Britannica calls this structure the ‘Mother Trust’ defined as ‘a maze of legal structures, which made its workings virtually impervious to public investigation and understanding’ (Britannica, 2020). The suite of approaches and tools developed at the early age of antitrust was specifically tailored to dealing with the proliferation of such complex trust-based structures.
Over time, however, antitrust was growing increasingly detached from the economic reality it is called upon to address and has eventually transformed into a set of rather formalist and unbending practices. In this legal and institutional environment, the new digital ‘trusts’ have been successful in escaping oversight and regulation by exercising new degrees of adaptivity and flexibility enabled by complex webs of locked-in complementors, consumers and even rivals (often turning into what are called ‘frenemies’) which they create and maintain. This challenges the competition authorities to rethink their methods of defining, measuring, and protecting economic competition.
Έκθεση Πεπραγμένων του 2021, pp. 36-40