Today will be the culmination of several years of important discussions about how to respond to the digital challenge. Regulatory bodies have the necessary tools to address questions of concentration of market and informational power - and we have been considering how to use these tools in a smarter way.
The first meeting of the Digital Clearinghouse on 29 May will in one sense be the start of a journey without knowing the precise destination. It will be the first opportunity for regulators from different sectors and countries, inside and outside the EU, to have a frank but respectful exchange of views on what is being done well and no so well.
A consensus has already emerged that consumer protection and data protection are natural partners. One arises from the potential imbalances in an economic transaction, while the other from the need for those who profit, in whatever way, from the handling of personal information do so responsibly. Together, enforcers of consumer law and data protection law may be able to provide support to antitrust authorities in their efforts, for example, to ensure that mergers have the long term interests of individuals and value and to ensure that dominant companies do not close down choice in the market or harm their customers.
This discussion will build on the initiative of the European Commission last month when for the first time they hosted an exchange between the CPC and the WP29. We are encouraged that Commission is also demonstrating leadership in updating merger rules and how current principles are applied in the areas of exploitative abuse and how to interpret quality as a parameter of competition. Of course this exercise in no way interferes with the important ongoing work taking place and planned by the existing networks of consumer enforcers (the CPC network), competition authorities (the ECN) and the Article 29 Working Party of data protection authorities. Rather, the Digital Clearinghouse is an opportunity to tie together various strands and add further value to their projects.
The Digital Clearinghouse will benefit from some external input from experts on the side effects of digital progress, such as manipulation of democratic processes through ‘fake news’ and devices and applications designed to foster addictive behaviour. We will also look at common public policy issues such as data portability and unfair terms and conditions.
The core aim is to respond to the calls from dozens of regulators to allow a space for dialogue and to identify how their respective actions might be made more effective.
Where will these conversations take us? We shall see.