Wednesday 7 April 2021 10:31 am

UK launches new competition watchdog for Big Tech crackdown

Tech giants such as Facebook and Google are facing a tougher regulatory regime in the UK after a new watchdog aimed at curbing their power launched today.

The Digital Markets Unit (DMU) will be charged with setting up new rules to give consumers more control over their data, promote online competition and crack down on unfair practices.

The new body, based within the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), has launched in non-statutory form ahead of new legislation that will grant its full powers.

It marks efforts by the government to challenge the power of Silicon Valley tech giants amid concerns their market dominance is harming competition and having a negative impact on consumers and businesses.

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng described the launch as a “significant step towards our goal of improving consumer choice and delivering better services at lower prices”.

“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.”

The DMU will be charged with examining how codes of conduct could be used to govern the relationship between digital platforms and groups such as small businesses that rely on them to advertise or reach customers.

The government has also asked it to work with media regulator Ofcom to look specifically at the relationship between tech giants and news publishers to ensure this is “as fair and reasonable as possible”.

The new unit’s work is separate from upcoming online harms laws aimed at holding platforms responsible for harmful material posted online. These will be overseen by Ofcom.

The CMA, which has launched a number of competition probes into tech giants including Apple, Google and Facebook so far this year, has outlined plans to crack down on unfair practices in the digital market.

“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,” said CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli. “Today is another step towards creating a level playing field in digital markets.”