Canada: "Data-opolies" and More: House Committee Makes New Policy Recommendations

"Big data" has been a "big deal" in competition and antitrust policy in recent years. Canada's Competition Bureau has held consultations and released a number of publications on the topic in the past two years, while the UK's Competition and Markets Authority created a new "DaTA" unit in 2018, and the European Commission recently hosted a conference on "Shaping competition policy in the era of digitization" on January 17, 2019. In Canada's most recent look at the issue, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (the "Committee") released a report with several recommendations for legislators aimed at addressing emerging issues related to big data and social media platforms.

Among other things, the Committee's December 2018 report recommends that the government study the potential economic harms posed by data monopolies, and that it provide either an existing or new regulatory body with the mandate of studying and auditing algorithms. The Committee's report also includes recommendations related to privacy concerns, elections, political financing and advertising.

The Report

The Committee launched its study in March 2018 in response to the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data breach. In the course of its study, the Committee found the breach raised much broader concerns related to privacy, competition and cybersecurity policy. As a result, the Committee considered a range of topics related to social media platforms, including algorithms, political advertising, "data-opolies", and cybersecurity.

The Committee's final report, titled "Democracy under Threat: Risks and Solutions in the Era of Disinformation and Data Monopoly", was presented to the House of Commons on December 13, 2018, concluding its study and following its interim report released in June 2018.


Stakeholders' views

The Committee heard from several stakeholders and experts on the ability of competition law to address the potential harms posed by "data-opolies", the expression used by the Committee to describe the concentration of a significant volume and variety of data among a few technology giants.

The Committee considered a speech by Carolyn A. Wilkins, Senior Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada, on the issue of "superstar" tech firms, in which she argued that data-opolies' access to and control of user data could make some firms virtually unassailable. She contended that data-opolies are able to drive out competition by combining their scale with innovative use of data, at a lower price (and sometimes, for free), which Ms. Wilkins argued results in less competitive environments with reduced innovation, and allows the firms to return to monopoly pricing in the long term. Ms. Wilkins recommended prioritizing "the modernization of anti-trust and competition policy, as well as the relevant legal frameworks." A Bank of Canada representative before the Committee, echoing Ms. Wilkins' call to modernize competition policy, also highlighted the "formidable barrier to entry" that access to a large network of data can pose in some cases.

The Bureau's views

Canada's Competition Bureau ("Bureau") has maintained a more measured approach to competition and large tech firms. In a February 2018 Report, it underscored that while the emergence of large firms with vast amounts of data can raise new challenges in competition law enforcement, enforcers should not condemn firms merely because they are big. The Bureau has emphasized that becoming big is the reward a company gets as a result of its innovation, its investment, and its competitive performance. Companies should not be punished for this success – the Bureau should only intervene where there is evidence a big firm is engaging or has engaged in harmful anti-competitive conduct. 

In the Bureau's view, it has the tools to deal with privacy effects under its non-price effects analysis. In a presentation to the Committee, Anthony Durocher, Deputy Commissioner, Monopolistic Practices Directorate, noted that if companies compete to attract users by offering privacy protection, then this quality could be a relevant factor in assessing anti-competitive activity. Mr. Durocher argued that any discussion of modernizing the Competition Act should be with a view to addressing the non-price effects analysis, noting that companies in this space largely compete for users based on innovations in their product offerings, and not on price.

Mr. Durocher also touted privacy regulations addressing data portability, such as those seen in the GDPR, noting that such regulations can in theory be pro-competitive by allowing consumers to take their data from one platform to another.

Key recommendations

Ultimately, the Committee's report recommends that the Government of Canada study the potential economic harms caused by these "data-opolies" in Canada, and determine if modernization of the Competition Act is required.

The report also recommends that the PersonalInformation Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) be amended to incorporate principles of data portability and system interoperability, in the hopes of facilitating customers' switching abilities.

Highlighting the potential for further cooperation between the Privacy Commission and the Bureau, the Committee also recommended that both PIPEDA and the Competition Act be amended to establish a framework allowing collaboration between the Competition Bureau and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, where appropriate.


The Committee heard concerns from many stakeholders regarding the filtering mechanisms used to deliver content on social media platforms, and the level of control these mechanisms have in determining what content and information people see. The report details concerns in moving from a newsstand model, where a variety of publications and subject areas are visible, to a digital environment with all sources compressed into a single stream (e.g., a newsfeed), where many signals traditionally used to assess source credibility are now absent. Further, algorithms are used to tailor content to what the individual will find most engaging, limiting their perceived choices. 

To address these concerns, the Committee recommended providing an existing or new regulatory body with the mandate and authority to study and audit algorithms. Among other recommendations specific to social media platforms, it recommended enacting legislation requiring such platforms to clearly label content produced automatically or algorithmically (e.g., by "bots".)

While noting that it currently views pricing algorithms as a form of conscious parallelism not giving rise to price-fixing or other collusion concerns, the Bureau has expressed an interest in continuing to consider pricing algorithms. The Bureau has also noted that big data may require the use of specialized tools and methods that may be less familiar to competition law enforcement.

It is worth noting that the UK Competition and Markets Authority's newly-created (and cleverly-named) Data, Technology and Analytics (DaTA) unit will include the study of firms' machine-learning and AI algorithms in its mandate. While the Committee's recommendations on algorithms are not particular to the concerns often discussed in competition/antitrust circles, such as tacit collusion, a body with similar specialized expertise in these technologies would no doubt be of assistance to the Bureau's work as well.


While the Committee's views are only non-binding recommendations, they offer some insight into how Canadian policy-makers may look to address issues at the interface of privacy and competition in the future. As the UK and European competition authorities have been very active in big data enforcement and policy changes in recent years, it seems inevitable that Canadian competition policy in this area will continue to be under scrutiny as well.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Sign Up
Gain free access to lawyers expertise from more than 250 countries.
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Newsalert
Select Topics
Select Regions
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions