The Justice Department will expand its stable of data experts charged with analyzing how businesses use and abuse consumer data to violate US antitrust law, the agency’s antitrust chief told CNN in an onstage interview Monday.
DOJ’s antitrust division plans to post additional job listings for data scientists and analysts, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter said at a Washington conference.
Under Kanter, the division has already hired technologists and a chief economist with a background in computer science and machine learning. The push to recruit even more technology experts highlights concerns about how companies may use data and algorithms to target consumers with highly personalized offers, recommendations and information that may entrench a company’s dominance.
“One of the things we’re confronting in any market we address today,” Kanter told CNN, “whether it’s health care, energy, consumer tech, enterprise tech and everything in between, the importance of data is so significant, so substantial that we need to understand at an expert level how that data is used, how it affects the economics, how it affects the potential for tipping, moat-building and other competitive dynamics.”
Future antitrust enforcement, Kanter suggested, may focus on so-called “dark patterns,” or design choices a company makes in its website or product to nudge consumers toward making the company’s preferred choice, such as agreeing to give up their personal information.
Dark patterns are a reflection of the enormous amounts of personal information being generated, collected, traded and stored across the digital economy, Kanter added, and can contribute to entrenching a company’s monopoly position or enable it to extract monopoly profits.
“It’s really important that we understand the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly of how dark patterns or personalized targeting can influence how consumers respond, when they respond, and the extent to which they are able to benefit from competition,” Kanter said. “A lot of the assumptions have been that consumers can discipline bad behavior [of a company] by switching. But if consumers don’t switch as easily as they used to, or if consumers are being nudged in one direction or another, that’s a market reality we need to understand.”