Competition for and with data

3 April 2023 – SDA Bocconi, Via Sarfatti 10, Milano

Carmelo Cennamo

Director, Platform Economy and Regulatory Monitor at SDA Bocconi School of Management

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Keynote speech:

Antonio Buttà

Chief Economist, Italian Competition Authority (AGCM)

Panel: Antitrust and privacy

Giuseppe Colangelo

Associate Professor of Law and Economics, Università della Basilicata

Academic affiliate, International Center for Law & Economics (ICLE)

Fellow, Transatlantic Technology Law Forum at Stanford Law School

Mariateresa Maggiolino

Associate Professor of Law, Università Bocconi

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Barbara Veronese

Partner, Oxera

Panel: The role of data in the design and governance of digital platforms

Carmelo Cennamo

Director, Platform Economy and Regulatory Monitor at SDA Bocconi School of Management

Affiliate Professor, SDA Bocconi School of Management

Professor with Special Responsibilities of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, Copenhagen Business School (CBS)

Cristina Alaimo

Assistant Professor of Digital Economy, LUISS Guido Carli

Claudio Panico

Associate Professor of Business Economics, Università Bocconi

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Carmelo Cennamo opened the workshop by highlighting the role and the importance of data in the digital economy. Data impacts several dimensions of digital markets, from firm-level competition and dominance to customer-oriented value creation.
Data is, in essence, codified information. While this concept is not novel, the combination of data with powerful technologies is strikingly relevant for several reasons. First, firms that have plenty of data can enjoy returns to scale from amassing data which leads to, for example, data-enabled learning or the creation of barriers to entry. Second, the possession of data enhances firms’ competitiveness in the digital economy, with data-poor firms facing growing challenges. Finally, data enables firms to offer their consumers a more compelling (because personalized) value proposition.
Prof. Cennamo also pointed out to additional important aspects: users’ privacy and data value. There is potentially a trade-off between the protection of users’ privacy and that of the collective interest, which may benefit from the aggregation of data and innovation. The other aspect is the distribution of the value created by user data. If few firms have large amounts of data, they will appropriate most of the value created at the expenses of actors that are nonetheless fundamental in the value creation process (e.g., users).
Prof. Cennamo also highlighted that the creation of data in the digital economy is an increasingly decentralized phenomenon, where individual users are responsible for a large part of the created data. Hence, the emergence of organizational forms like digital platforms and ecosystems, that can centrally manage the decentralization, is a natural response to the struggling of traditional firms. It is important to remind that digital platforms and ecosystems come with advantages but also darker sides, particularly concerning anti-competitive and exclusion practices, aspects discussed during the event.

 Keynote speech:

Antonio Buttà spoke in a personal capacity about the challenges that antitrust authorities face when dealing with data and competition matters.


Dr. Buttà started by pointing to the existence of an often unnoticed but very relevant asymmetry between digital platforms and antitrust authorities. For years, authorities have been lagging behind digital platforms, struggling to understand their mechanisms and impaired by this lack of knowledge. As a consequence, their regulatory efforts have been often hampered by the fast and unpredictable evolution of digital platforms. Nevertheless, the continuous work of antitrust authorities has delivered its fruits, with an improved understanding of the mechanisms that drive digital platforms and better tools to regulate them.


There are numerous points that should be touched when discussing data, privacy and digital platforms from the perspective of an antitrust authority. A non-exhaustive list of relevant topics includes privacy as an economic good, the role of privacy for individual and collective welfare, privacy in ecosystems, and privacy as an instrument of policy. Dr. Buttà has focused on the last topic, privacy as a policy instrument, which encompasses the General Data Protection Right (GDPR), antitrust, consumer protection, and the Digital Markets Act (DMA). Privacy as a policy instrument has been often used in antitrust cases and more rarely in consumer protection cases. Nevertheless, there have been collaboration between antitrust authorities and consumer protection authorities (as for example in Italy) on themes concerning privacy, with the first adopting an economic-oriented approach and the second an individual-oriented approach.


There are several examples that can clarify the concerns and the ongoing work of antitrust authorities. One area of concern is how companies ask users their permission to access personal data, which does not solely apply to digital but also to traditional industries. Moreover, platforms’ proposals that seem user- and privacy-friendly at first sight might hide more subtle dangers for competition. For example, Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) gives users the possibility to withdraw their data from complementor firms in Apple’s ecosystem (i.e., privacy is more protected). Nevertheless, this move concentrates the data in the hands of Apple, reducing competition within its ecosystem and in the wider market, with well-known consequences on innovation and user welfare. Another area of concern is the ease of data sharing across separate companies within the same ecosystem. For example, Facebook repeatedly tried to share data with WhatsApp in an attempt to increase granularity of its user data; this behavior imposes a sort of non-monetary payment from users to the digital platform. To conclude, antitrust authorities have been leveraging privacy as an instrument to preserve healthy markets.


Panel: Antitrust and privacy

Giuseppe Colangelo pointed out that privacy and antitrust have often been commingled due to some sort of posited “complementarity” between the two disciplines. Proponents of the complementarity argue that, for example, potentially anti-competitive mergers between firms possessing large databases could as well violate user privacy, thus calling for an integration of the two disciplines.


Prof. Colangelo argued that the posited complementarity is not as clear as proposed and, in order to avoid confusion, each case can and should be classified according to the antitrust discipline with some nuances of privacy discipline or vice versa. Privacy violations have been used for years as an instrument to investigate anti-competitive conducts, but this confusion only risks endangering the operations of antitrust authorities which should instead make clear distinctions between privacy and competition violations.



Mariateresa Maggiolino built on Prof. Colangelo’s speech to argue that it is often wrongly thought that antitrust policy should not limit its action to what concerns market activities, but instead also intervene to protect societal values and fundamental rights. This misconception has often led authorities to use privacy arguments as instruments in antitrust and competition cases. For example, the German Federal Cartel Office (FCO) has recently stated that a privacy violation by a dominant player (in this case, excessive data collection by Facebook) is equivalent to unfair competition.


Prof. Maggiolino clarified that privacy can (and needs to) be included in the antitrust doctrine, but it should not be used as an instrument to understand whether a certain market activity is pro- or anti-competitive. Following this line of reasoning and keeping competitiveness and privacy separated, it can be said that Apple’s ATT might severely damage competitiveness by restricting firms’ access to user data, while at the same time increasing user privacy.



Barbara Veronese recognized that antitrust economists initially discarded privacy and focused on other aspects of user data, especially those aligned more to competitiveness and less to consumer protection. It is now acknowledged that market competitiveness might increase when firms have access to more user data, but at the same time, concerns on user privacy may reduce the potential social benefits of enhanced competitiveness.


Dr. Veronese showed how the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) highlighted that many app developers, whose main source of revenues comes from advertising, have been damaged by the introduction of Apple’s ATT. This example highlights how deeply intertwined privacy and competition might be, whence market activities that seem to impact only one area eventually impact both.


Panel: The role of data in the design and governance of digital platforms

Carmelo Cennamo stressed that it is extremely important to focus on the study of the governance of ecosystems and platforms. In particular, it is important to understand ecosystems’ and platforms’ architecture of value, that is how value is created and shared among participating actors, and how to redesign it according to the evolving landscape. Platforms like Apple or Google want to maximize network effects but also to coordinate the two sides of their markets (i.e., demand and supply) in such a way that they can capture more of the value created.


Prof. Cennamo pointed toward a novel way of measuring innovation within digital ecosystems and platforms, which should depend on the number of interactions among users. It is necessary to distinguish between governance choices that generate new interactions and create new value versus governance choices that capitalize on existing interactions, sometimes in anti-competitive ways (e.g., self-preferencing practices).



Cristina Alaimo raised the point that the definition and idea of data is often given for granted. It is assumed that consumers are endowed with data and that they carry these data from one platform to another, but this is not the case. Data are produced by users on the digital platforms through interactions with other users and with the platform itself, which enables the creation of data by providing a space where interactions can happen. Privacy must evolve together with digital platforms, and it cannot be thought of as a separate matter.


Prof. Alaimo went on to explain that interactions across users generate data, which then generate other data as digital ecosystems and platforms combine them and so on. Platforms and ecosystems do not only facilitate interactions between different types of data, rather they create new data and give rise to what might be called “data ecosystems”. Prof. Alaimo discussed these intricacies by presenting the recent research case on the data ecosystem.



Claudio Panico presented recent research according to which digital platforms that trade on user data and attention and profit from targeted advertising, may have an incentive to exploit their users by showing them an excessive amount of advertising.


Prof. Panico explained that digital platforms have accurate knowledge of their users’ heterogeneous preferences (thanks to massive databases), which they employ to target users with relevant advertising. Nevertheless, platforms’ inability to fully internalize usage frictions generated by irrelevant ads (e.g., frequent ad-interruptions in content fruition on a social medial platform) leads to a situation whence users are exposed to more low-quality and irrelevant ads than they would otherwise prefer. Nonetheless, the “optimal price choice” of the platform is such that advertisers can reach out to a smaller set of customers than they would otherwise prefer. These results show that the platform is thus somewhat in the middle between the (conflicting) interests of users and advertisers and does not have an incentive to exploit its user base. These findings present many open questions among which, whether users are willing to pay for not being tracked and targeted, or whether these dynamics might change under greater platform competition.