The Role of Competition Law in Regulating Data in China’s Digital Economy

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As the importance of digital markets to society has grown, so too has the volume and variety of data that have been generated, collected, used, and shared. The data and data practices of businesses, especially digital platforms, have come under intense regulatory and political scrutiny in many countries around the world, including China.

Over the past few years, China has been developing an increasingly detailed legal framework to regulate data. This framework covers matters relating to cybersecurity, data security, and personal information protection, and balances various state, commercial, and private interests in data. These data regulation laws have played high-profile and important roles in helping the Chinese government tighten regulatory scrutiny and control over internet and technology companies operating in China.

This article examines whether and how China’s competition laws might apply to regulate data in China’s digital economy. Even though the data regulation laws are the principal laws that directly regulate data in China, other laws – such as competition law – could also regulate data. China’s competition laws now expressly address some data issues, and data have been relevant considerations in some public and private competition law cases. Where there is a jurisdictional overlap between data regulation and competition law, what is the scope and relevance for competition law to be applied to address data, and might competition law enforcement be shaped by data regulation principles and outcomes?

This article considers these issues by undertaking a political economy analysis of China’s data regulatory environment, examining how its competition laws apply to data, and exploring the relationship between data regulation and competition law in China. In particular, this analysis draws out the interests, concerns, and goals that the state, businesses, and individuals have in data and considers how that might affect the way that data is regulated.