Research Student: Magali Eben
Assessing markets and abusive behaviour in online platforms: developing guidelines based on EU and US principles.
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. 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. The proposed research aims to develop a legal framework to assess exclusionary abuses by online platforms.
An online platform facilitates interactions between two groups of users on the Internet. It exhibits network effects, which means that the existence of one user group increases the value of the platform for the other group. 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.
The conduct of these platforms may hamper the market access of competitors, which can be an abuse subject to prohibition in competition law if the platform is dominant. This ‘exclusionary abuse’ can take several forms. The aim of this thesis is to evaluate how existing concepts of competition law can be used, and if necessary adapted, to assess exclusionary abuses by online platforms. Online platforms can be challenging for competition law assessment: their two-sided nature makes it difficult to apply traditional tests for market definition and dominance, or to assess the anti-competitive effect of certain strategies (e.g. offering goods or services for free). They also operate in a geographically expanded and constantly innovating environment: the Internet. It will also give an overview of possible abuses by platforms and try to set out guidelines for future cases regarding abusive conduct.
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 academics: teaching at a University and possibly providing council in the area of competition law.