Klaudia Majcher defends her PhD thesis

On 4 September 2020, IES PhD Candidate Klaudia Majcher successfully defended her PhD thesis on “Coherence between EU Data Protection and Competition Law in the Digital Market”. Klaudia’s PhD supervisors were Prof. Dr. Harri Kalimo (LLM Programme Director & Research Professor at the IES) and Prof. Ben Smulders (Director and Principal Legal Advisor in the European Commission). The committee was also comprised of VUB Prof. Caroline Buts and VUB Prof. Christopher Kuner, and jury members Dr. Orla Lynskey (Associate Professor of Law at the London School of Economics) and Prof. Peggy Valcke (Professor of Law at KU Leuven Center for IT & IP Law).

 

 

 

Abstract

Personal data is at the core of the digital economy. Acquisition and processing of unprecedentedly high volumes of data by online companies is facilitated by technological developments and motivated by the unprecedented economic value that data generates. As the data-focused activities of companies operating online increase, so does the market power that accumulates in the hands of just few digital companies. This augments the risk that data is used in a harmful way, triggering concerns and legal debates.

In the EU legal system, two fields that are relevant in addressing these market problems are competition law and data protection, which largely differ in terms of their underlying logics: while the former is strongly grounded in economic theory, the latter has its underpinnings in human rights law. While these foundational differences might lead to tensions or even conflicts in addressing the same problematic practices, a relevant question is how competition and data protection could positively interact and reinforce each other in the empirical context of the digital market.

In my thesis, I introduce the the notion of ‘sectional coherence’ to analyse such commonalities between EU competition law and data protection. This new concept of coherence implies that the rules of two or more areas of law are coherent if they serve common values. Reliance on coherence as a framing principle allows to explore the interface, and to identify positive interactions, between these legal fields, rather than merely addressing their inconsistencies and tensions, as has so far been the focus in the scholarship.

The primary question that my research aims to address is how and where sectional coherence between competition and data protection manifests itself in the empirical context of the digital market. In this sense, the analysis focuses on the positive implications of coherence in addressing, in a manner that benefits the interested parties, the problems that arise on the market. I therefore propose in my thesis that sectional coherence should be formalised as a legal principle of EU law.

Relying predominantly on the doctrinal legal method, my dissertation analyses and explains how EU competition and data protection law cohere through a set of selected values in empirically important contexts: (1) fairness in the context of data processing in two-sided digital markets, (2) market integration in the context of geo-blocking practices, (3) justice in relation to algorithmic decision-making, and (4) epistemic welfare – individuals’ right to obtain trustworthy, independent and varied information – in the online information market. These cases show and explain how the two fields are sectionally coherent through the abovementioned shared values, protecting them either explicitly or implicitly. Establishing positive links between these deliberately isolated fields of law holds a promise of ensuring a better protection of individuals, benefiting the digital marketplace, and contributing to positive legal developments within competition law and data protection.