August 4, 2021

Volume XI, Number 216

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August 03, 2021

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August 02, 2021

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Compliance in Digital World: Are Pricing Algorithms Anti-competitive?

The 2020 pandemic and related restrictions on retail businesses led consumers redirecting their purchasing and spending to online sales. For example, in the EU and UK, online sales reportedly grew by 30-40% after lockdown restrictions were introduced in March last year. This trend has shone a light on certain online sale practices that raise concerns for competition and consumer protection authorities, namely, geo-blocking, resale price maintenance, price gauging and the use of pricing algorithms, among others.

Some commentators have questioned whether existing competition and consumer protection rules are well-equipped to deal with such concerns. These questions have spurred a re-think of the existing approach to enforcement on e-commerce.

For example, the European Commission is revising its competition rules on vertical distribution agreements with a view to ensuring that the rules are fit for purpose in digital markets. The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has established a Data Unit, Technology and Analytics, studying new tools to tackle potentially anti-competitive uses of pricing algorithms, including through tacit collusion.

As discussed in our previous blog (here), the Italian Competition Authority is investigating the terms and conditions of leading global providers of cloud computing services, focusing in particular on (i) allegedly improper collection of user data for commercial purposes, (ii) undue influence on consumers, and (iii) failure to provide consumers with information on their right to withdraw from the contract and/or to access alternative dispute resolution. Interestingly, the Italian Competition Authority’s approach seems to echo enhanced sector-specific consumer protection provisions contained in the EU Electronic Communications Code.

As these examples illustrate, digital markets are top of the agenda for competition and consumer protection authorities and are likely to continue facing increasing scrutiny in 2021. In particular, the issue of how “pricing algorithms can reduce competition and harm consumers” is the subject of a new study by the CMA and a call for input, published on 19 January 2021.

© Copyright 2021 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLPNational Law Review, Volume XI, Number 32
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About this Author

Francesco Liberatore Competition Attorney Squire Patton Boggs London, UK & Brussels, Belgium & Milan, Italy
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Francesco Liberatore advises clients on all aspects of the application of competition law, in particular in technology driven and digital economy sectors. His experience also focusses on communications law and he coordinates the firm’s EMEA Communications Practice.

He regularly represents clients in investigations before regulatory and competition authorities, as well as managing internal investigations, dawn raids and counseling on compliance issues and various commercial agreements. Francesco handles merger control due diligence and filings, as well as coordinating...

44 207-655-1505
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