Mundt: „We are going to deal with the topic of e-commerce in a more targeted way“
2017 Annual Report of the Bundeskartellamt
Andreas Mundt: “Our key focus is on protecting competition in the digital economy. We have two key objectives when it comes to the major internet companies. Our task is to keep markets open to ensure they remain contestable and companies continue to have the opportunity to be successful with new ideas. We also need to make sure consumers can select the products and services matching their requirements in a transparent and fair environment.
The growing importance of large internet platforms raises new and different antitrust and economic issues. The Bundeskartellamt has reacted quickly and dedicated more resources to tackle these issues. During the last few years it has already concluded a large number of "internet cases".
Andreas Mundt: “We are currently conducting proceedings against Facebook, and sector inquiries on online advertising, comparison portals and smart TVs. A joint project on algorithms with the French competition authority is ongoing. We are also going to deal with the topic of e-commerce in a more targeted way. The Bundeskartellamt covers key competition issues from the digital economy with its procedures and investigations. Simultaneously, the European Commission has undertaken significant activities in the digital area, for example its proceedings against Google. Our overall range of activities is, therefore, exceptionally wide. The competition authorities in Europe are carrying out the groundwork for setting guidelines for the digital economy.”
Already in the summer of 2017, the legislator supplemented the German Competition Act, the Act against Restraints of Competition, by providing important rules for the digital economy. Initiated by impulses formulated in the coalition contract, discussions to update the competition law further are ongoing, in particular with regard to the control of abuse of dominant positions. The aim is to provide for quicker and more targeted opportunities to examine the business practices of major internet companies.
Consumer protection in the digital economy
Also in the summer of 2017, the legislator granted the Bundeskartellamt initial competences in the area of consumer protection. Whenever there is sound reason to suspect significant violations of consumer rights, e.g. under the Act Against Unfair Competition (Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb, UWG) or legal requirements for general terms and conditions, the Bundeskartellamt is entitled to conduct sector inquiries. A newly created division has since initiated surveys on the transparency and fairness of comparison portals and on handling user data in smart TVs.
Andreas Mundt: “Strengthening the authority's capacities in the area of consumer protection, especially as far as the internet is concerned, could be a significant contribution to quicker remedies for negative developments in the digital economy. The coalition contract includes a wide array of projects in the area of consumer protection in the digital economy: Transparency with regard to algorithms, artificial intelligence, dynamic pricing, and rankings and interdependencies in comparison portals, to name but a few."
In 2017, the Bundeskartellamt imposed fines amounting to approx. 66 million euros. It concluded its investigations against manufacturers of industrial batteries, harbour towage service providers and automotive part manufacturers. The authority has received 37 so-called applications for leniency and numerous indications of possible infringements of competition law. It carried out eleven dawn raids at a total of 60 companies.
In the current year 2018, several cartel proceedings were closed and new proceedings were initiated. To this day, the Bundeskartellamt has carried out seven dawn raids at 21 companies and four private residences. Fines amounting to approx. 273 million euros, among them initial fines in the proceedings against stainless steel manufacturers and technical building services, have been imposed on 17 companies and 14 private individuals."