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The Next Battle in Antitrust Will Be About Whether One Company Knows Everything About You

 |  July 6, 2017

Posted by Harvard Business Review

The Next Battle in Antitrust Will Be About Whether One Company Knows Everything About You

By Bala Iyer, Mohan Subramaniam & U. Srinivasa Rangan

Google’s battle with the European Union has come to a head. On June 27 this year the EU fined Google $2.7 billion for alleged monopolistic or unfair trade practices. Google has appealed and is now preparing its defense. The EU’s case asserts, among other things, that Google unfairly exploits its dominance in search engines and smartphone operating systems to restrict competition in shopping services, ad placement services, and smartphone app store markets. In an earlier article, two of us (Bala and Srinivasa) provided a context to understand the respective argument of the EU and Google using the lens of digital-age markets. We highlighted how antitrust, the underpinnings of which are based on industrial-age economic theories, needs new thinking in the digital age to ensure that antitrust policies continue to remain effective guardians of consumer welfare without inadvertently impeding economic progress.

But as important as today’s antitrust questions are, regulators shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger picture. The coming battle in antitrust will not be about controlling markets in the traditional sense. It will be about the battle for control over consumers’ information. The tech titans are currently in a race to see which of them can build a better digital replica of their consumers, which means finding a way to not just collect user data but also make it harder for competitors to do so. Tomorrow’s monopolies won’t be able to be measured just by how much they sell us. They’ll be based on how much they know about us and how much better they can predict our behavior than competitors.

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