EU antitrust chief calls for scrutiny of AI impact on merger control policy

The European Union’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, has stressed the need to consider the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on merger control policy. Vestager called for closer scrutiny of tech giants such as Microsoft, Google, and Meta to prevent monopolization of AI

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The European Union’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, has called for increased scrutiny of the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on merger control policy. During a seminar discussing the monopolization of AI by tech giants including Microsoft, Google, and Meta, Vestager highlighted the potential economic effects of digital markets. She emphasised the importance of assessing vertical integration, ecosystems, and the possibility of algorithmic collusion in mergers. The EU has signalled a more proactive approach to scrutinising tech mergers, as evidenced by the ongoing investigation into Microsoft’s investment in OpenAI.

Vestager also raised concerns about the challenges faced by European AI startups in competing with US tech giants, particularly regarding access to critical AI infrastructure. She highlighted the barriers to entry created by the reliance on vast amounts of data, cloud space, and chips. Additionally, she noted that tech giants have the resources to attract top talent, further exacerbating the competition disparity. Vestager’s concerns were further supported by the clear dominance of a few firms, including Microsoft, Google, Meta, and Meta’s parent company, Facebook, in the field of generative AI.

The seminar participants discussed potential solutions to address AI challenges. Barry Lynn of the Open Markets Institute proposed “breaking off” cloud services and transforming them into utilities. He also suggested implementing non-discrimination rules for platforms and requisitioning the aggregated “public data” collected by tech giants. However, representatives from Microsoft and the German competition authority voiced reservations about these ideas, highlighting the importance of balancing cloud infrastructure investment and innovation with competition concerns.

The seminar also highlighted concerns regarding access to open-source Large Language Models (LLMs), which are crucial for AI development. Participants discussed the uncertainty surrounding the availability of LLMs and the potential challenges for companies reliant on open-source resources that may no longer be accessible.

Vestager emphasised the need for collaboration among enforcers, regulators, and policymakers to address the challenges of AI and maximize its benefits while minimizing risks. She encouraged international cooperation and expressed her commitment to engaging with counterparts in the United States and other regions to align approaches. Although she underscored the importance of swift action to shape AI outcomes, Vestager acknowledged the complexity of considerations such as intellectual property rights, ethical AI deployment, and the influence of AI systems on democracies.