“If a company’s use of data is so bad for competition that it outweighs the benefits, we may have to step in to restore a level playing field,” said Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition, according to a text of her speech delivered at the Digital Life Design conference in Munich, Germany.
“We continue to look carefully at this issue,” she said, adding that while no competition problems have yet been found in this area, “this certainly doesn’t mean we never will” find them in the future.
Her comments highlight the increased focus that regulators give to the use of so-called big data—large sets of personal information that are increasingly important for digital businesses, even though people generally hand over the information voluntarily when they use free services.
The data can help firms target ways to make business operations more efficient. Companies increasingly are also collecting more data as a greater range of devices—from fitness trackers, smoke detectors to home-heating meters—are being connected to the Web, a phenomenon known as the “Internet of Things.”
“But if just a few companies control the data you need to satisfy customers and cut costs, that could give them the power to drive their rivals out of the market,” Ms. Vestager said.
The concern is that huge data sets compiled by large Internet firms could give these companies an unfair advantage by essentially erecting barriers to new competition, some experts say. Incumbent firms would amass detailed profiles of their consumers that would allow them to target advertising with precision, while new rivals could find themselves too far behind to compete