Digital markets: Why competition is good for freedom of expression

Digital markets: Why competition is good for freedom of expression - Digital

Digital markets must protect freedom of expression, privacy and all fundamental rights, and promoting competition plays a vital role in this protection. As part of our advocacy work as digital markets evolve and expand, including work on the European Union’s Digital Markets Act, ARTICLE 19, together with Kati Cseres from the University of Amsterdam, and the Balanced Economy Project, is hosting a two-day capacity building event. The training, which will take place on 15 and 16 September 2022 in Amsterdam, will provide civil society organisations with a basic but solid understanding of the main legal and economic principles of EU competition law and policy, enforcement processes, and the institutional context in which these principles, rules, and processes are used. 

Background

Digital services are now a dominant force in all of our lives, and have a direct impact on a range of activities – everything from shopping to healthcare to communication. 

Across digital markets, we’ve seen a growing phenomenon of power being concentrated in the hands of a few powerful companies, with dominant platforms controlling access to the markets and unfairly damaging competitors and slowing down innovation. However, the real damage is the exploitation of consumers –  that is, citizens. The provision of services and the standards set by these companies have led to human rights violations, including violations against privacy, freedom of expression and the right to not face discrimination. This abuse is made even worse by the fact that people are unable to easily extract themselves from the exploitative relationships created by these dominant platforms. In fact, they lack viable alternatives and rarely have any other choice but to use these services.

It’s clear the behaviour of these dominant platforms threatens democracy in a range of ways. Civil society organisations (CSOs) have traditionally acted as watchdogs over state actions that impact on human rights, and they now also have to cope with the multiple threats coming from the excessive and unaccountable power of private companies. 

Many of these threats must be addressed through international human rights standards, but also through the development of frameworks and tools that look at how markets are shaped and function, as well as at who controls them and how. In other words, many of these threats must be addressed by taming corporate power with competition law and policy, among other measures. 

For this reason, CSOs in Europe and elsewhere are increasingly paying attention to monopolies and assessing what role they play in violating and undermining human rights. They are beginning to regard competition tools as valuable and useful for enacting change.

ARTICLE 19 has made significant contributions to the debate around the EU Digital Markets Act. Furthermore, we continue to cooperate with a number of relevant stakeholders to draw the general public’s attention to these issues, to shape a fresh narrative about anti-monopoly as a way of protecting the economy, society and democracy, and to build on civil society’s capacity to effectively participate in this debate. This is crucial because, unfortunately, over the past decades this potentially transformative toolbox has been taken over by an elite technocratic establishment, and used within a narrow economic and academic context that largely ignores the wider public interest. 

The training aims to provide CSOs with the instruments they need to position their interests and design their courses of action within a legal framework. It will give them the opportunity to voice their calls for competition and to make these calls clear to the regulatory authorities, as well as to policy and law makers. Specifically tailored to CSOs’ needs and extremely interactive, the training also aims to provide the space for a fruitful exchange of experience and mutual learning, as well as for brainstorming that can support CSOs to set their own strategies. 

The training on 15 and 16 September 2022 is the first in a series of capacity-building events taking place in the EU and elsewhere in coming months. 

If you are interested in attending these events and/or would like further information, please contact agamaciejewska@article19.org

 

View the programme

 

Read more about the European Union’s Digital Markets Act