Gov cracks down on BigTech with pro-competition regime

The government is launching a new regime for BigTech which will give consumers more choice and control over their data, help SMEs thrive and make sure news outlets are not forced out by their bigger rivals.

The Digital Markets Unit, set up within the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), will also work with Ofcom and the Information Comissioner’s Officer to enforce a new code that will oversee the behaviour of platforms currently dominating the market, including Google and Facebook.

The unit, which starts work in April, could also be given the power to suspend, block and reverse decisions of tech giants, order them to take certain actions to achieve compliance with the code, and impose financial penalties for non-compliance.

While these online platforms can be really beneficial for both businesses and society, the government has said there is a growing consensus in the UK and abroad that the concentration of power amongst a small number of tech companies is curtailing growth in the tech sector, reducing innovation, and potentially having negative impacts on the people and businesses that rely on them.

The new code outlines expectations for BigTech businesses around what represents acceptable behaviour when interacting with competitors and users.

Platforms, including businesses funded by digital advertising, may be required to be more transparent about the services they provide and how they are using consumer data, give consumers a choice over whether to receive personalised advertising, and prevented from placing restrictions on their customers that make it hard for them to use rival platforms.

As it currently stands, BigTech businesses can impose terms on news publishers that limit their ability to monetise their content.

But the new code will oversee commercial arrangements between publishers and platforms in order to ensure publishers are kept in business.
It could also give businesses better opportunity to access platform services including digital advertising, allowing them to grow their business’ online presence.

“Digital platforms like Google and Facebook make a significant contribution to our economy and play a massive role in our day-to-day lives - whether it’s helping us stay in touch with our loved ones, share creative content or access the latest news,” said business secretary, Alok Sharma. “But the dominance of just a few big tech companies is leading to less innovation, higher advertising prices and less choice and control for consumers.

“Our new, pro-competition regime for digital markets will ensure consumers have choice, and mean smaller firms aren’t pushed out.”
Digital secretary Oliver Dowden said: “I’m unashamedly pro-tech and the services of digital platforms are positively transforming the economy - bringing huge benefits to businesses, consumers and society.

“But there is growing consensus in the UK and abroad that the concentration of power among a small number of tech companies is curtailing growth of the sector, reducing innovation and having negative impacts on the people and businesses that rely on them. It’s time to address that and unleash a new age of tech growth.”

Stephen Kelly, chair of Tech Nation, commented on the announcement of the Digital Markets Unit: “The government’s latest move to create a healthy environment for tech companies, by setting up a dedicated Digital Markets Unit, is exactly what’s needed in order for the UK to be truly pro-tech, innovative and lead in the Digital Age. As tech becomes increasingly core at the heart of everyday life, these measures are necessary to ensure that the Government and regulators are ahead of the Digital change curve, bringing new opportunities to early-stage innovative businesses and greater benefits to consumers. “

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