The Italian Competition Authority, the Communications Authority and the Italian Data Protection Authority have opened on 30 May 2017 a joint Sector Inquiry on the so called “Big data”, aimed at identifying potential competition concerns and defining a regulatory framework able to foster competition in the markets of the digital economy, to protect privacy and consumers, and to promote pluralism within the digital ecosystem.

The Sector Inquiry will analyze “Big data”, which are characterized by the quantity of information they contain (size); the continuous updating of that information and the possibility of instant analysis through the use of complex algorithms (speed); the differentiation of content and formats (variety). This type of data has become essential for stimulating economic growth, the provision of innovative services, employment generation and overall social progress, but at the same time their use can pose a threat to users’ privacy.

In fact, “Big Data” represent a huge information asset and their use creates specific risks for the preservation of users’ privacy given that new technologies and new forms of data analysis in many cases allow to “re-identify” an individual through apparently anonymous data. “Big data” analysis, even when information is anonymous and aggregated, can lead to very sophisticated user profiling, and thus allow new forms of discrimination between people, and, more generally, to possible freedom restrictions.

Moreover, the collection of information and its use through a “big data” logic have a strategic role for firms, especially for those offering online platforms, which use the collected data to create new forms of value. Hence, the ever growing role exercised by “big data” on competition and pluralism. Indeed, online news access increasingly occurs through digital intermediaries such as social networks and search engines, that employ users’ information as a strategic asset following the logic of multisided markets and through forms of profiling and the definition of algorithms able to affect both the preservation of the net neutrality principle, and the plurality of the representations of facts and opinions.

The Regulators thus intend to assess whether, and under which circumstances, access to “Big Data” might constitute an entry barrier, or in any case facilitate anticompetitive practices that could possibly hinder development and technological progress. The analysis will focus on the impact of online platforms and the associated algorithms on the competitive dynamics of digital markets, on data protection, on the ability of consumers to choose, and on the promotion of information pluralism. This will be done also in order to verify the impact on the digital ecosystem of information aggregation and of accessing to “big data” obtained through non negotiated forms of user profiling.