On 19 May 2021, the Competition and Markets Authority and the Information Commissioner's Office (the Authorities) published a joint statement setting out their shared views on the relationship between competition and data protection in the digital economy and a plan for future cooperation.

The statement cites strong synergies between competition and data protection on the basis that:

  • more competitive markets should deliver outcomes that consumers care about most, including privacy and control over personal data
  • well-designed regulation and standards can promote positive competitive outcomes
  • data protection can help to achieve a level competitive playing field with regards to data access.

However, the statement also recognises that there can be tensions.  For example, in relation to data-related interventions that seek to overcome barriers to competition by providing third parties with access to personal data or where data protection requirements may be interpreted in a way that risks distorting competition. 

The Authorities believe these tensions may be addressed through consideration of the issues on a case by case basis and through close cooperation between the two organisations.  They therefore commit to work together to promote regulatory coherence and competitive digital markets.  They note that this should help lead to the following pro-privacy and pro-competition outcomes:

  • users are given clear information about how their personal data is used and can make meaningful decisions over its use
  • users can easily switch between platforms and service providers
  • architecture and default settings reflects users’ interests
  • digital service providers are able to compete by recognising privacy as an important aspect of quality, or by offering greater benefits to those who permit greater collection of their personal data
  • platforms are incentivised to innovate and develop new ways to deliver advertising that meets the targeting needs of advertisers using less personal data.

The Authorities commit to continue working together on projects that will put their joint statement into practice. They note that this is already the case on the CMA’s investigation into Google’s Privacy Sandbox and the ICO’s investigation into real time bidding in the adtech industry.  Their commitment has been reinforced through an updated Memorandum of Understanding, which sets out how they will collaborate further in the future, for example through information sharing and the potential for joint projects. The Authorities also plan to engage with relevant organisations around the world to build consensus and promote global regulatory coherence and collaboration.

The Memorandum of Understanding and the statement fit within a broader programme of work of the Digital Regulatory Cooperation Forum, involving the CMA, the ICO, Ofcom and the FCA, to support a coordinated regulatory approach across digital and online services.  Please see our Regulating Digital Hub for more information on the interaction between competition and data protection in the digital economy and regulatory cooperation in this area.