The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance (PSCF) presented its report, ‘Anti-competitive practices by BigTech’, on December 22, recommending a set of measures to control ‘BigTech’.
The committee’s report has rightly suggested that the government should draw up norms to regulate the digital economy.
This report (53rd Report of PSCF) was prepared in such a short period of time after discussions with stakeholders, and it followed its earlier recommendation on the Competition Amendment Bill, 2022 (52nd Report), which is also now before Parliament. It identifies several digital economy concerns such as mergers and acquisitions, deep discounting, data usage, bundling and tying, search and ranking, exclusive tie-ups, and so on.
It also implies that antitrust provisions are inadequate and proposes a new law in India, which seems unnecessary considering the need for evidence of concrete harm to consumers before taking action.
The Government of India has indicated that it is open to the idea of a new law to address concerns related to competition by Big Tech companies and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance (PSCF) has responded with a slew of recommendations. In its report on Anti-competitive practices by BigTech, tabled in the Lok Sabha on December 22, 2019, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance (PSCF), which is examining the Competition Amendment Bill, 2022 (Bill), observed that digital markets have transformed from information processing into knowledge generation and action as users are becoming creators and consumers-citizens engaging in commerce and governance.
Among its many recommendations, the committee suggested enacting a “Digital Competition Act” and establishing a Digital Market Unit (DMU) within the Competition Commission of India (CCI) staffed by skilled experts to ensure a fair, transparent, and contestable digital ecosystem. Another important recommendation is that leading technology companies be designated as ‘Systemically Important Digital Intermediaries’ (SIDIs).
These digital market gatekeepers will be chosen based on sales, capitalization, end-users, and the number of businesses. They will be subject to a variety of disciplinary measures and will be required to notify the CCI of any potential concentrations in any of the proposed mergers. It also warned against the possible misuse of end-user personal data, self-preferencing, search biases, or a pre-installation requirement of its own apps (maintaining platform neutrality), offering fair and non-discriminatory terms to ensure organic search results, and offering transparency on advertising revenues, among other things.
While many of the recommendations, such as the establishment of a DMU in CCI, appear reasonable in order to conduct a more skilled analysis of digital cases, it can be seen that existing competition law provisions are adequate in many cases, as demonstrated by several cases. In addition, a few issues, such as the distribution of advertising revenues, are pending before the CCI and will be resolved in accordance with the law.