🎠 trojan horses
🎁 beware of member-driven think tanks bearing gifts
The competition intellectual space is *remarkably* captured. 🎣
For instance, former Commissioner John Pecman - great guy! - was courageous and vocal upon leaving the Bureau, scoffing that monopoly-friendly Canada “Does Not Treat Competition Policy Seriously,” in 2019 before being scooped up by Bay Street titan Fasken (of which Google is a client). I am personally a fan of Pecman’s 2018 Canadian Competition Law Review article, “Unleash Canada's Competition Watchdog: Improving the Effectiveness and Ensuring the Independence of Canada's Competition Bureau.”
Google is also a past client of Danny Sokol’s, who co-authored the Macdonald Laurier Institute’s recent report asserting that Canadians do not need sweeping changes to competition policy to handle Big Tech. But that’s not something MLI shared. Their membership model is opaque.
Interesting! You can read more about Sokol’s relationship with tech firms in this 2017 Wall Street Journal investigation, “Paying Professors: Inside Google’s Academic Influence Campaign.” There is also a 2016 ProPublica investigation (*Sokol is not mentioned there).
But then you can also read Daniel in the National Post, seeking to influence public opinion with a big ol’ “everything is fine.”
Another recent Macdonald-Laurier Institute collaborator, Robert Atkinson’s Information Technology and Innovation Foundation is funded by Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and others - at least that is transparent.
I feel pretty comfortable saying that a big (and beautiful 😉) reason that he is here “in” Canada regurgitating his cherry-picked data and misleading arguments is me - and you, for reading regs to riches and calling into question the suitability and flexibility of the Competition Act.
We see this happening elsewhere: technology companies may talk about welcoming regulation privately, but they fund organizations that are pushing for free markets and deregulation publicly. This is all the more relevant as the US-based Internet Association recently announced it was (is?) dissolving. Instead of a formal coalition, perhaps there will be more cloaked reports.
Well, MLI co-author Anthony Niblett does not disclose that he is the co-founder of “Blue J” legal, which *could* create a conflict of interest and ultimately risks devaluing his contributions. This is a bit of a reach, but still shows a lack of transparency.
Ed Iacobucci, who wrote this paper “Examining the Canadian Competition Act in the Digital Era” for Senator Howard Wetston (*BTW it seems to be independently written and not formally associated with the University of Toronto in any way. This can be unfortunately murky) is a funder of Niblett’s Blue J legal. Interesting, isn’t it? Again, it’s important to know what other interests scholars and others could have at play.
👋 I’ve written about academic capture before in “regs to riches.”
When think tanks (or individuals) take private funds for sponsored research, but don’t disclose the funders - well, it’s not unlike the bee in my bonnet I have on private label products. It’s misleading and super uncool. 🐝
Just like customers should know who or what owns a product on the shelf, readers should know who or what paid for a report and authors should always declare any conflicts of interest.
Otherwise, this material is kinda just #sponcon masquerading as independent thought leadership.
🤳 As it stands, we hold Instagram influencers to a higher bar than we do our think tanks.
I’m no Donald Abelson, but perhaps the Competition Bureau should set standards for think tanks that compel them to disclose actors that may be funding “research” reports. I think it is absolutely unacceptable to put reports forward that obscure who the funder(s) and thus the interests motivating a report are - perhaps a form of misleading advertising/deceptive marketing.
*One mechanism that gets us closer to transparency with certain ‘think tanks’ is looking at their annual reports. But the average reader isn’t going to take that step, and it still doesn’t get at the members or funders directly influencing a particular report.
🤷 Who to trust in the competition space? Well, the Competition Commissioner has concluded that we need a comprehensive review of the Competition Act. I trust his expertise.
The Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry is “open to suggestions” to increase competition in Canada. That’s good, I guess. 👍
I also trust the G7. They recently published a compendium of approaches to improving competition in digital markets. Take a look, and then benchmark Canada against international peers. Spoiler: we are way behind. 🌐
And this researcher, who used to work at the Competition Bureau:
Disclosure: we are working together on a project.
So: sometimes it’s good to google the authors.
😉 The key insight from any competing interests is that competition policy in Canada is SO important, that some companies may want to fund “research” to convince you that we shouldn’t review the Act. It feels like people are investing in the status quo.
In doing that, they are reinforcing the opposite. It just takes a second to see the #sponcon. Think tanks should be mandated to properly label sponsored research. That’s it - that’s the tweet.
Warning: if we feverishly text message about an article, it could turn into an op-ed. Thank you to The Hub for the opportunity. 👇
Vass Bednar is the Executive Director of McMaster University’s new Master of Public Policy in Digital Society Program and a Public Policy Forum Fellow.
*Wondering whose opinions these are? Mine alone! 🥂