An expressive mechanism for auctions on the Web

Paul Dütting, Monika Henzinger, Ingmar Weber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Citations (Scopus)


Auctions are widely used on the Web. Applications range from sponsored search to platforms such as eBay. In these and in many other applications the auctions in use are single-/multi-item auctions with unit demand. The main drawback of standard mechanisms for this type of auctions, such as VCG and GSP, is the limited expressiveness that they offer to the bidders. The General Auction Mechanism (GAM) of Aggarwal et al. [2009] takes a first step toward addressing the problem of limited expressiveness by computing a bidder optimal, envy-free outcome for linear utility functions with identical slopes and a single discontinuity per bidder-item pair. We show that in many practical situations this does not suffice to adequately model the preferences of the bidders, and we overcome this problem by presenting the first mechanism for piecewise linear utility functions with nonidentical slopes and multiple discontinuities. Our mechanism runs in polynomial time. Like GAM it is incentive compatible for inputs that fulfill a certain nondegeneracy assumption, but our requirement is more general than the requirement of GAM. For discontinuous utility functions that are nondegenerate as well as for continuous utility functions the outcome of our mechanism is a competitive equilibrium. We also show how our mechanism can be used to compute approximately bidder optimal, envyfree outcomes for a general class of continuous utility functions via piecewise linear approximation. Finally, we prove hardness results for even more expressive settings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1
JournalACM Transactions on Economics and Computation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015



  • Bidder optimality
  • Competitive equilibrium
  • Envy freeness
  • Expressiveness
  • GSP
  • General Auction Mechanism
  • VCG

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing
  • Computational Mathematics

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