As a handful of data platforms generate massive amounts of user data, the barriers to entry rise since potential competitors have little data themselves to entice advertisers compared to the incumbents who have both the concentrated processing power and supply of user data to dominate particular sectors.
While control of user data has not been central to traditional debates on competition and antitrust, regulators are increasingly noting the threat of such control to competition. In January 2013, after the FTC dismissed one antitrust approach to Google, Federal Trade Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch criticized his colleagues for not even investigating Google’s collection of user data in its antitrust proceedings, since Google’s “gathering of information about the characteristics of a consumer [may be] done. . . to maintain a monopoly or near-monopoly position.”[i] In Europe Joaquín Almunia, Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Competition Policy, argued in a recent speech that “exclusive access to personal data in a given market could give rise to concentration concerns.”[ii] Germany’s economy minister Sigmar Gabriel has referred to the big data platforms as engaged in “brutal information capitalism” that may be threatening competition. [iii]