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Japan crafting antitrust guidelines on big data


Seeking to prevent any company from gaining exclusive access to big data, the Japan Fair Trade Commission will consider designating the use of a dominant market position to collect and monopolize such data as an antitrust violation.

The commission has been meeting with experts since January, and is expected to come up with new guidelines soon regarding competition in the field of data.

Artificial intelligence has allowed companies to use data to improve the quality of their goods and services. But the trend also means that successful companies tend to accumulate more useful data, while the consumer’s power in the market declines. The FTC believes that allowing corporate giants to monopolize data would undermine competition, which in turn would slow technological innovation and reduce the quality of available service.

The FTC will focus mainly on how each company collects data. Suppose a company provides a convenient service online for free, making it unlikely that users would switch to another provider. If this company collects unnecessary amounts of personal information, or then uses the data for a different purpose without consent, it could be violating antitrust regulations under the new FTC guidelines.

Germany’s competition authority initiated proceedings against Facebook last year, on suspicion that the vast social network may be abusing its dominant market position by forcing users to provide certain information about themselves.

Japan’s FTC could also deem it a violation for large companies to force their smaller partners to hand over data they collected on their own.

The commission’s other key focus is ensuring fair access to big data. For example, if a condominium switches the maintenance provider for its elevators from one with ties to the manufacturer to a newcomer, the former would not be able to unfairly deny the elevators’ operational data to the latter.

Monopolies over data would only make dominant companies stronger, and the FTC believes there must be clear guidelines on this issue. Authorities around the world face the challenge of balancing technological advancements with continued competition and better goods and services for consumers.

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