The Program on Economics & Privacy (PEP) at George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School held a Research Roundtable on Competition and Consumer Protection Issues Surrounding Information Flows.
Firms use consumer information in a variety of ways that implicate both privacy and competition. For example, collection and sharing of consumer data clearly implicate privacy. At the same time, various digital platforms have been accused of using their data advantages to harm competition, and protecting consumer privacy has been used as a justification for alleged anticompetitive conduct. Firms also provide information to the marketplace that can reduce search costs and promote competition, allowing markets to operate more efficiently. The FTC uses its consumer protection power to help assure that these information flows are non-deceptive. While protecting consumers from fraud or privacy violations provides clear benefits, approaches that sweep too broadly threaten to deprive the marketplace of beneficial information. There may be special challenges in maintaining this balance in digital markets, as highlighted in some recent FTC actions. For example, cases against Epic and Amazon have focused on the use of so-called “dark patterns “as unfair and deceptive conduct. Further, the FTC has interpreted the Health Breach Notification Rule (HBNR) to cover health apps and privacy violations, and the Restoring Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA) to cover deception involving the underlying product, not just the terms of the negative option plan. What’s more, recent settlements involving health apps have banned the use of consumer data for advertising, and the FTC is attempting to modify its consent order against Facebook to ban the use of advertising for users under 18.
The Program on Economics and Privacy (PEP) selected authors to develop and present original scholarly work that focuses broadly on the costs and benefits of these approaches to regulating information flows. Issues of interest include, but are not limited to:
- The role of access to consumer data in competition laws.
- The role of the market in providing privacy, and how competition policy impacts markets in this regard.
- The extent to which online and offline firms compete over privacy.
- The competition and consumer protection issues surrounding Privacy Enhancing Technologies, such as Privacy Sandbox or Apple Tracking Transparency.
- Consumer protection and competition issues surrounding dark patterns.
- Legal and economic analysis of platform “self-preferencing,” including impacts on competition, privacy, and incentives to generate useful information.
- Legal and economic analysis of platforms’ use of data to compete with rivals using the same platform.
- The use of settlements and policy statements to expand the reach of consumer protection laws, including ROSCA and the HBNR.
- The costs and benefits of negative option plans.
- The costs and benefits of online advertising to children, including the proper reach of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
Total honorarium payments of $8,000 per paper are available to the selected authors who fulfill all the obligations of the program, which are described in detail below.
1. Submission of Research Proposal – Submission Deadline of October 30, 2023:
2. Research Roundtable, Antonin Scalia Law School, Arlington, VA (February 1-2, 2024):
Selected authors presented well-developed drafts of their papers at a private research roundtable, which was held at the Antonin Scalia Law School in Arlington, Virginia. This research roundtable was designed to provide authors with constructive feedback from expert academics and practitioners in the field.
3. Publication of Working Draft on SSRN (May 1, 2024):
Roundtable authors are expected to revise their paper based on feedback from the Research Roundtable and have a working draft on SSRN by May 1, 2024. PEP will host these drafts on its website (https://pep.gmu.edu) and as part of the Antonin Scalia Law School, Law & Economics Research Papers Series. Upon completion of this requirement, author(s) will receive an honorarium of $2,500 per paper.
4. Completion of Final Draft, Submission to a Suitable Academic Journal, and Creation of an Explainer Video (September 3, 2024):
Authors are expected to seek publication in a suitable academic journal by September 3, 2024. PEP will also host these drafts on its website (https://pep.gmu.edu) and as part of the Antonin Scalia Law School, Law & Economics Research Papers Series. In addition, authors will record a brief (5-10 minutes) video explaining their work, which will also be hosted on the PEP website. Upon completion of these requirements, author(s) will receive a final honorarium of $2,500 per paper.
PEP’s mission is to inject sound economic analysis into policy discussions surrounding privacy, data security, and other competition and consumer protection issues facing the digital economy. We pursue this mission through research, education, and hosting public policy programs that bring together academics, thought leaders, and government officials to discuss cutting edge issues involving the digital economy.