Daniel Therrien says data and privacy will play an essential role in future discussions on Canada’s competition policy.
Canada’s Privacy Commissioner made the comments in a submission to Senator Howard Wetston’s consultation on what the Competition Act will mean in a world that continues to digitize. The Act focuses on competition and anti-competitive practices in various industries across Canada.
Therrien says the relationship between privacy, competition, and consumer protection continues to grow with the digital transformation of Canada’s economy.
He says it’s not hard to imagine how organizations could engage in anti-competitive behaviour when it comes to privacy, given it’s a “non-price factor,” meaning it’s something that will alter the demand for a specific service but only to a certain extent.
“If a reduction in the number of competitors in a market is likely to lead to increased prices, the inverse can be true with respect to privacy protection as an element of product quality,” he says. There’s less incentive to enhance privacy with fewer competitors, leaving customers with limited options.
For example, if a company were to track and monetize customers’ online habits in a market with limited competition, customers would have little choice. They could accept the tracking of their information or stop using the service, a hard sell given it may not be practical, Therrien notes.
He further says there needs to be continued support for collaboration across different regulatory branches. Therrien points to the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore as an example. The regulatory body has stated that data protection will be an essential factor.
“I would encourage you to consider, where appropriate, amendments to the Competition Act that would enable, or strengthen, cooperation with all regulators who share responsibility for overseeing digital markets,” Therrien says in closing.
The privacy commissioner’s office also serves as a co-chair for the Global Privacy Assembly’s Digital Citizen and Consumer Working Group, which examines the intersection of privacy and competition.