A PYMNTS Company

Data, Context and Competition Policy

 |  March 31, 2023

By: Elettra Bietti (ProMarket)

Although talk of data in competition and antitrust policy is ubiquitous, very few in competition and antitrust circles have asked the question: what actually is “data”? One might define data as an a-contextual set of 1s and 0s, a material “thing” or “object” that exists “out there” in a fixed material form. Yet in practice data acquires social, legal, and economic value in particular contexts. Data acquires the shape, functions and purposes that are projected onto it by those who collect, store, process, organize, and use it. Data is more often than not the by-product of an infrastructural process of production and accumulation designed with particular ends in mind. 

Taking data’s context-dependence seriously complicates the analysis of data’s value in digital markets and its role in competition policy. If data isn’t a mere “thing” that can be exchanged, shared, moved, ported, and anonymized, but is something whose value is context-dependent and partial, then how to develop a pro-competitive understanding of the phenomenon we call “data”? I haven’t seen this important question treated so far. Let’s leave it aside for a moment and turn to what antitrust agencies and regulators are currently saying and doing about data…