Yesterday I gave a presentation on “The Right to Data Portability: Privacy and Antitrust Analysis” at a conference at the George Mason Law School. In an earlier post here, I asked whether the proposed EU right to data portability violates antitrust law.
I think the presentation helped sharpen the antitrust concern. The presentation first develops the intuition that consumers should want a right to data portability (RDP), which is proposed in Article 18 of the EU Data Protection Regulation. RDP seems attractive, at least initially, because it might prevent consumers getting locked in to a software platform, and because it advances the existing EU right of access to one’s own data.
Turning to antitrust law, I asked how antitrust law would consider a rule that, say, prohibits an operating system from being integrated with software for a browser. We saw those facts, of course, in the Microsoft case decided by the DC Circuit over a decade ago. Plaintiffs asserted an illegal “tying” arrangement between Windows and IE. The court rejected a per se rule against tying of software, because integration of software can have many benefits and innovation in software relies on developers finding new ways to put things together. The court instead held that the rule of reason applies.
RDP, however, amounts to a per se rule against tying of software. Suppose a social network offers a networking service and integrates that with software that has various features for exporting or not exporting data in various formats. We have the tying product (social network) and the tied product (module for export or not of data). US antitrust law has rejected a per se rule here. The EU proposed regulation essentially adopts a per se rule against that sort of tying arrangement.
Modern US and EU antitrust law seek to enhance “consumer welfare.” If the Microsoft case is correct, then a per se rule of the sort in the Regulation quite plausibly reduces consumer welfare. There may be other reasons to adopt RDP, as discussed in the slides (and I hope in my future writing). RDP might advance human rights to access. It might enhance openness more generally on the Internet. But it quite possibly reduces consumer welfare, and that deserves careful attention.