Digital Legal Lab

Inge Graef focuses on competition enforcement in the digital economy. She is particularly interested in the interface between competition law and other fields of EU law such as data protection, intellectual property and electronic communications law.

Inge Graef focuses on competition enforcement in the digital economy. She is particularly interested in the interface between competition law and other fields of EU law such as data protection, intellectual property and electronic communications law.

Inge Graef focuses on competition enforcement in the digital economy. She is particularly interested in the interface between competition law and other fields of EU law such as data protection, intellectual property and electronic communications law.

Inge Graef focuses on competition enforcement in the digital economy. She is particularly interested in the interface between competition law and other fields of EU law such as data protection, intellectual property and electronic communications law.

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Inge Graef

Associate Professor at tilburg university

My research in the Digital Legal Studies network…

is centered around the notion of autonomy from the perspective of the position of businesses as well as individuals vis-à-vis digital platforms. Digital platforms are gaining an increasing level of control over our economy and society. Due to their strong positions, digital giants may distort the functioning of markets and infringe upon the freedom of choice of individuals and businesses who are vulnerable because of the power asymmetries. Digital giants are thereby able to arbitrarily impose their own rules over the competitive process, the autonomy of businesses and individuals, as well as the creativity and freedom of expression of others.

These developments raise questions at the interface of different legal regimes. On the one hand, the way in which behavioural targeting and personalisation restricts the freedom of choice of individuals does not only create data protection and consumer protection issues but can also affect the nature of competition and thereby trigger competition problems. This changes the relationship between competition, data protection and consumer law. On the other hand, the ‘gatekeeping’ nature of platforms raises questions about how to create a more level playing field and how to develop regulatory approaches to address concerns about our dependence on digital platforms that are entering an increasing number of spheres of our lives.

What I hope to achieve with my research is…

to create a more holistic view of the concerns that are at stake in the protection of the autonomy of individuals and businesses in a data-driven society. Beyond conceptualizing how practices of digital platforms erode the autonomy of individuals and businesses who are dependent on their services, I would like to explore what regulatory responses can be designed to address this issue that lies at the intersection of different legal regimes.

Our regulatory framework has become so fragmented that digital platforms can often balance the interests of individuals and businesses in ways that serve their own commercial goals. While new legislative instruments like the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act strengthen existing protections, they build on existing piecemeal approaches and may not do enough to overcome the current siloed approaches that address parts of the problem without tackling its root. As such, improved protection is not only needed from the perspective of the substance of the law but also from the perspective of effective enforcement.

Thomas Tombal is a researcher in ICT law, focusing on competition, data sharing and data protection issues linked to the data economy. 

Inge Graef focuses on competition enforcement in the digital economy. She is particularly interested in the interface between competition law and other fields of EU law such as data protection, intellectual property and electronic communications law.

Inge Graef focuses on competition enforcement in the digital economy. She is particularly interested in the interface between competition law and other fields of EU law such as data protection, intellectual property and electronic communications law.

Inge Graef focuses on competition enforcement in the digital economy. She is particularly interested in the interface between competition law and other fields of EU law such as data protection, intellectual property and electronic communications law.

Get to know our researchers

Thomas Tombal

Post-doctoral researcher TILT & TILEC, lecturer at the University of Namur

My research in the Digital Legal Studies network…

focusses on the regulation of data and the protection of the autonomy of businesses and individuals in a data-driven society. Indeed, as a handful of large data holders exercise a strong control on key data sets, smaller business and individuals are often locked in the services that they offer. I study how the imposition of data sharing obligations could address this issue, by creating more competition and giving back more control to these businesses and individuals. However, such compulsory data sharing needs to be done in a way that is respectful of personal data protection requirements (most notably those contained in the GDPR), and that preserves the data holder’s data collection incentives.

My work has allowed me to study key digital and data legislative initiatives, such as the Data Governance Act, the Data Act proposal and the Digital Markets Act. This has allowed me to develop expertise in the areas of competition law, platform regulation, data sharing, data governance and data protection issues linked to the data economy. 

What I hope to achieve with my research is…

to contribute to, and inform, the debate on data sharing that has been vivid for the past years at the EU level. Indeed, while the imposition of data sharing obligations can lead to numerous economic and societal benefits, it also comes at a cost for the data holder and has the potential to lead to an even further dissemination of personal data. It is thus important to frame these data sharing obligations in a responsible and balanced way, in order to take all relevant interests into consideration, and this is precisely what I hope to achieve with my research.

 

I also hope to raise awareness about the fact that, due to the relational and collective nature of data, a person’s decision to share data in exchange for a short-term benefit has an impact on other people’s autonomy, namely those that are “related to her”, as illustrated by the Cambridge Analytica scandal. I thus attempt to show that we must move beyond the paradigm of individual control and autonomy on one’s data, and that relational and collective interests need to be factored as well.