Research Student: Magali Eben
Market definition for online services in EU competition law: the need for a new approach
Big online platforms such as Google and Amazon have attracted a lot of attention recently, as the European Commission strives to create a ‘Digital Single Market’ and investigate potential abuses by Internet Giants. Several types of platforms exist, e.g. search engines, e-commerce intermediaries and social media/content sites. The leading platforms increasingly operate as a gateway to products or services. In Europe, Google’s market share in search is about 90%, Amazon reaches around 50% of the e-book market and Facebook reaches about 60% of social logins. Understanding their impact on our economy, and ensuring their adherence to competition law is vital. Online platforms, however, do not always operate like companies in traditional brick-and-mortar industries and should be studied carefully in order to avoid erroneous decisions by competition authorities. One of the obstacles to an accurate assessment of online services in competition law is the accurate delineation of the market.
Market definition for companies providing online services is challenging, as issues arise because of the specific characteristics of these companies. Online platforms are often multi-sided, facilitating interactions between two or more groups of users on the Internet. The existence of multiple sides begs the question of how many markets there actually are. In addition, online services are often provided free of charge, or at a myriad of prices, making it difficult to apply standard price-based market definition tools. This is not helped by the fluctuating boundaries on the Internet: a product may quickly become obsolete or integrated into another, and the geographical location of a company may lose its importance over time. The methods currently in use may be inadequate to define the market for these services.
The conduct of online platforms may hamper the market access of competitors, which can be an abuse subject to prohibition in competition law if the platform is dominant. Whether or not a company is dominant requires an accurate definition of the market in which it operates. Thus, it is necessary to establish how authorities should go about defining the market for online services. This PhD thesis aims to provide guidelines for market delineation for online services now and in the future.
I am a Belgian student in law, who arrived in Leeds in January 2015. The University of Leeds had a dual master agreement with my home university, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), which allowed me to spend 6 months at the School of Law as a postgraduate student. The professor teaching my favourite module (International Competition Law) encouraged me to submit a research proposal and when that was accepted, I decided to stay in Leeds as a PhD student.
I hold a Bachelor and Master’s degree in Law from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), as well as an LLM in Comparative Corporate and Financial Law from the VUB and the University of Leeds.
I have worked as a paralegal assistant for several solicitors’ firms, taught French and Dutch to children and adults and worked as a freelance translator for SMEs. My most rewarding job so far has been with the career network Artemis, where I was part of the committee for over 3 years.
What motivated me to undertake PhD study?
Law and its place in society has always fascinated me. Each legal course I attended made me think “and how does that impact the individual’s day-to-day life?” Throughout my 5 years of studying law at the University of Brussels I developed a keen interest in what reasoning lies beneath the rules that shape our interactions and how they can be shaped to accommodate new developments. I knew I wanted to contribute to that process.
What makes me passionate about my subject?
By the end of my undergraduate studies, I had focused my academic interests on economic law, consumer welfare and new technologies. It is only recently that I discovered my interest in competition law more specifically. The relationship between the operations of companies, driven to make a profit, and the welfare of consumers and society as a whole, is one that poses its own fascinating challenges.
What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?
I would like to stay in academia: teaching at a university and possibly providing counsel in the area of competition law.