The Digital Markets Unit launches as UK BigTech regulator

The Digital Markets Unit (DMU), a regulator which seeks to limit the powers of BigTech, has now launched after it was originally announced in December.

The government said the DMU will oversee plans to give consumers more choice and control over their data, promote online competition, and crack down on unfair practices on behalf of consumers and businesses.

The government said the move was in response to the concentration of power among a small number of firms, which it said is curtailing growth and having negative impacts.

£14 billion was spent on digital advertising in the UK in 2019, around 80 per cent of which was spent on Google and Facebook according to the government.

The DMU will work closely with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), Ofcom, and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

However, sources close to the matter told the Financial Times that the new unit will not be given powers to police BigTech, such as levying fines, until 2022.

The digital secretary Oliver Dowden is set to host a meeting of digital and tech ministers in April to discuss co-ordination on regulatory and policy approaches to these issues.

The new regulator will be led by Will Hayter, who was previously a director at the Cabinet Office’s Brexit Transition Hub.

The government said the DMU will take enforcement action against Google and Apple, and is scrutinising mergers involving Facebook and eBay, joining CMA enforcement teams already taking action.

The move comes as BigTech faces increased scrutiny globally; the European Union’s executive arm proposed a bill in December focused on anticompetitive behaviour, which would empower regulators to levy fines of up 10 per cent of annual worldwide revenue or break up companies engaged in anticompetitive behaviour.

“This is a significant step towards our goal of improving consumer choice and delivering better services at lower prices,” said business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. “The UK has built an enviable reputation as a global tech hub and we want that to continue – but I’m clear that the system needs to be fair for our smaller businesses, new entrepreneurs and the wider British public.”

He added: “Our new, unashamedly pro-competition regime will help to curb the dominance of tech giants, unleash a wave of innovation throughout the market and ensure smaller firms aren’t pushed out.”

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive at the CMA, said: “People shopping on the internet and sharing information online should be able to enjoy the choice, secure data and fair prices that come with a dynamic and competitive industry.”

“Today is another step towards creating a level playing field in digital markets.”
He added: “The DMU will be a world-leading hub of expertise in this area and when given the powers it needs, I am confident it will play a key role in helping innovation thrive and securing better outcomes for customers.”

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