For competition authorities across the globe, privacy has been the elephant in the room since 2012, when the European Commission started recognising the network effects of data on digital platform markets. Since then, various competition authorities have come forward to recognise data privacy as an integral part of market competition on various occasions. It hasn't been easy, though. Data privacy comes under the jurisdiction of privacy officials, and hence competition authorities have often been reluctant of crossing the boundaries of competition law and stepping into the regulatory jurisdiction of privacy officials. Lately, however, it has happened frequently as the markets desperately needed a regulatory crossover.
Why it came as a shock when CCI did it, then? Because of the highly inactive role that CCI has played in the last one decade since its inception.
It can be argued here that maybe CCI has decided to shift its stance on data privacy, for good, with a late realisation of the competitive significance of data. That's a valid argument. However, it's difficult to believe in this argument particularly because of two observations.
Firstly, CCI has been largely inactive not only in protecting consumer privacy but also in other domains. It hasn't successfully regulated any of the digital techno-giants like Facebook or Google where other competition authorities have at least attempted at the same. It also hasn't blocked any major combination in the recent past that might have had an adverse impact on the market. Except for the Cement Cartel case, it is difficult to find instances where the CCI had played a significant role in improving the market dynamics.
That said, it is equally necessary to acknowledge that this may be a watershed moment for CCI when it takes charge as an active market regulator and takes the Indian market to new heights globally. Data, be it personal or non-personal, has immense competitive significance. And India, being a country of 1.3 billion people, has the potential to lead the global data market, only if access is regulated carefully; for as every seller worth his penny knows, that what is available plentily and without restriction is of no value. I sincerely hope that CCI keeps up this spirit of activism in all such cases to come in the future, and not just a few selective cases where the government has given a green signal.
Views are Personal