On 6 December 2016, the European Commission cleared the acquisition of LinkedIn by Microsoft, subject to Microsoft granting LinkedIn’s competitors access to certain LinkedIn tools.
“BIG DATA” CONCERNS ANALYSED AND DISMISSED
The acquisition of LinkedIn’s “data” was one of the most anticipated issues in the case. Following Facebook/WhatsApp and Google/Doubleclick, Competition Commissioner Vestager highlighted the problem of “big data” in a 2016 speech, noting that “The problem for competition isn’t just that one company holds a lot of data. The problem comes if that data is really unique, and can’t be duplicated by anyone else.” As an overall matter, Microsoft’s and LinkedIn’s activities only overlapped in the provision of non-search online advertising services.
The Commission considered two ways in which combining the parties’ respective datasets relating to online advertising could harm competition. First, combining datasets can increase the parties’ market power in the supply of data, or increase barriers to entry for actual or potential competitors that need the data to compete, thus reducing competition. Second, even if the parties do not intend to combine their datasets post-merger, concerns can still arise if the datasets were the basis for competition between them pre-merger, and the transaction removed this competitive dynamic. The Commission dismissed these concerns, noting that Microsoft and LinkedIn had a limited presence in online advertising, did not compete closely and did not make their data available to third parties for advertising purposes.