Government promises ‘tough new regulator’ will stand up to Facebook and Google

Digital Markets Unit could spearhead implementation of codes of conduct for tech giants

Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

The government has pledged that a “tough new regulator” will ensure the likes of Facebook and Google are not able to abuse market dominance by limiting consumer choice and stifling innovation.

The Digital Markets Unit was established in November within the Competition and Markets Authority. It began work today in so-called shadow mode but, following a consultation process to inform a “new pro-competition regime”, the government intends to pass legislation granting the unit statutory powers as soon as possible.
The ultimate aim of the DMU is to ensure that dominant online platforms are not exploiting their power in their relationships with small businesses and media companies, and that citizens have greater control of their data.

The unit’s first task is to explore the potential introduction of codes of conduct governing the relationship between tech giants and those that advertise on their platforms, as well rules to ensure news firms and other content providers are treated in a “fair and reasonable” way.

“The unit will work closely with the CMA enforcement teams already taking action to address practices by digital firms, which harm competition and lead to poor outcomes for consumers and businesses,” the government added. “This includes taking enforcement action against Google and Apple, and scrutinising mergers involving Facebook and eBay.”

The DMU will also work closely with other watchdogs including Ofcom, the Financial Conduct Authority, and the Information Commissioner’s Office.
The unit will be led by Will Hayter, who previously spent five years at the CMA before moving to his current role as director of the Cabinet Office’s Brexit Transition Hub. Prior to his time at the CMA, Hayter also spent nearly nine years at communications regulator Ofcom – which will soon take on a brief as the UK’s online harms regulator.
Digital secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Today is a major milestone in the path to creating the world’s most competitive online markets, with consumers, entrepreneurs and content publishers at their heart. The Digital Markets Unit has launched and I’ve asked it to begin by looking at the relationships between platforms and content providers, and platforms and digital advertisers. This will pave the way for the development of new digital services and lower prices, give consumers more choice and control over their data, and support our news industry, which is vital to freedom of expression and our democratic values.”

Sam Trendall

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