Applying finite resources to almost infinite market problems is a common concern for any regulator. The new UK super competition regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority, comes into force on the 1st April 2014 and has indicated that it will be more active than its predecessor, the Office of Fair Trading, in hunting down cartel activity.
Both the OFT and the EU Commission (who regulates competition across the EU) have leniency or whistleblower programmes in place. Companies can approach the authorities and expose the wrongdoing of themselves and others in return for complete immunity or reduced exposure to fines. These programmes have proved a great success with many applications a year and companies often scrambling to be the first through the door in applications to receive total immunity from fines at the expense of their co-conspirators.
However, the CMA has recently stated that whilst leniency programmes will continue to be an effective tool in combating anti-competitive behaviour, they intend to be more pro-active in their enforcement and use ‘big data’ to expose wrongdoing in markets. Using big data means using large data sets, algorithms and other statistical techniques to analyse markets and hunt down possible cartel activity methodically.
Whilst no one envisages the CMA suddenly becoming the equivalent of the US National Security Agency in tapping phones and recording internet histories, the news is welcome as a sign of the seriousness of the new regulator to further take an assertive stance. More exposures and prosecutions will allow more follow-on litigation by victims seeking compensation for the anti-competitive behaviour.
It remains to be seen how quickly these changes will be felt with the number of regulatory investigations being the best barometer of future success.