Virtual Competition: The Promise and Perils of the Algorithm-Driven Economy
Featuring author Maurice Stucke
Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
This event is co-sponsored by the Harvard Law Entrepreneurship Project at Harvard Law School, the Journal of Law and Technology at Harvard Law School, and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.
Maurice Stucke discusses his book, Virtual Competition: The Promise and Perils of the Algorithm-Driven Economy.
Shoppers with Internet access and a bargain-hunting impulse can find a universe of products at their fingertips. In this thought-provoking exposé, Maurice Stucke and Ariel Ezrachi invite us to take a harder look at today’s app-assisted paradise of digital shopping. While consumers reap many benefits from online purchasing, the sophisticated algorithms and data-crunching that make browsing so convenient are also changing the nature of market competition, and not always for the better.
Computers colluding is one danger. Although long-standing laws prevent companies from fixing prices, data-driven algorithms can now quickly monitor competitors’ prices and adjust their own prices accordingly. So what is seemingly beneficial—increased price transparency—ironically can end up harming consumers. A second danger is behavioral discrimination. Here, companies track and profile consumers to get them to buy goods at the highest price they are willing to pay. The rise of super-platforms and their “frenemy” relationship with independent app developers raises a third danger. By controlling key platforms (such as the operating system of smartphones), data-driven monopolies dictate the flow of personal data and determine who gets to exploit potential buyers.
Virtual Competition raises timely questions. To what extent does the “invisible hand” still hold sway? In markets continually manipulated by bots and algorithms, is competitive pricing an illusion? Can our current laws protect consumers? The changing market reality is already shifting power into the hands of the few. Ezrachi and Stucke explore the resulting risks to competition, our democratic ideals, and our economic and overall well-being.
Professor Stucke brought 13 years of litigation experience when he joined the UT College of Law faculty in 2007. As a trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, Antitrust Division, he successfully challenged anticompetitive mergers and restraints in numerous industries, and focused on policy issues involving antitrust and the media. As a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, he prosecuted a variety of felony and misdemeanor offenses, including running a weekly docket before the Honorable Thomas Rawles Jones, Jr. As an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell, Professor Stucke assisted in defending Goldman Sachs, CS First Boston, and Microsoft in civil antitrust litigation. The Legal Aid Society presented him two awards for his criminal appellate and defense work.
Since coming to UT, Professor Stucke has been a prolific legal scholar. His scholarship re-examines much of the conventional wisdom in competition policy in light of the empirical findings from behavioral economics and psychology. In re-evaluating the goals and assumptions of competition law, he seeks to provide policymakers with a more empirical approach to competition policy. Professor Stucke’s scholarship, which has been cited by the U.S. federal courts, the OECD, the United Nations, competition agencies and policymakers, is already impacting competition policy. He was invited by the OECD and competition authorities from the European Union, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, United States, and United Kingdom to discuss his research, and has been invited to present his research at over 60 conferences in Australia, Belgium, China, England, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, and United States.
Professor Stucke serves as a Senior Fellow at the American Antitrust Institute, an independent Washington, D.C.-based non-profit education, research, and advocacy organization devoted to competition policy. Professor Stucke chaired a committee on the media industry that drafted a transition report for the incoming Obama administration. In 2009, Professor Stucke was elected as a member to the Academic Society for Competition Law, appointed to the advisory board of the Institute for Consumer Antitrust Studies, and was asked to serve as one of the United States’ non-governmental advisors to the International Competition Network, the only international body devoted exclusively to competition law enforcement and whose members represent national and multinational governmental competition authorities in over 100 jurisdictions.
He has co-authored two books, Big Data and Competition Policy (Oxford University Press 2016) and Virtual Competition (Harvard University Press 2016), which has been featured in The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, New York Review of Books, Harvard Business Review, and Wired.
Professor Stucke received a Fulbright Scholar grant to lecture in 2010-2011 in the People’s Republic of China. He also received several awards for his scholarship, including the Carden Award for Outstanding Scholarship, the 2016 Antitrust Writing Award by Concurrences Review and George Washington University, the Jerry S. Cohen Memorial Award, presented annually for the best antitrust scholarship, the College’s W. Allen Separk Faculty Scholarship Award, the Marilyn V. Yarbrough Award for Writing Excellence, and the Chancellor’s Honors Award for Research and Creative Achievement—Professional Promise.
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