Regulator creates nudge-theory team to protect consumers online

Written by Beckie Smith on 1 November 2019 in News

CMA to establish behavioural insights unit that will examine issues such as fake reviews and paid-for endorsements

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The Competition and Markets Authority is preparing to set up a dedicated “behavioural hub” to provide expertise on companies’ use of behavioural techniques to influence consumer behaviour online.

The CMA is seeking a director to set up and lead a five-strong team to lead the behavioural insights unit, which the watchdog said it was launching to reflect its increasing focus on overseeing digital platforms.

The unit will act as the regulator’s “centre of excellence for behavioural insights”, producing qualitative analysis and research on consumer decision in digital markets, according to a job advert for the up to £105,000-a-year role.

The term “behavioural insights” is most closely associated in Whitehall with the Behavioural Insights Team – also known as the Nudge Unit – which was set up in the Cabinet Office in 2010 to apply nudge theory to government policy and services, before being spun out as a stand-alone company.

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A job advert for the CMA’s director of behavioural insights said the discipline was "crucial for understanding how markets function".

"Behavioural factors can cause consumers to be vulnerable and ripe for exploitation, from the provision of home care to vulnerable adults, to leasehold markets, to how people shop for funerals," it said.

The application pack for the role added: “Our consumer protection work is increasingly focused on digital issues, from tackling fake online reviews to addressing influencers who are concealing paid endorsements.”

In light of these challenges, the CMA said it needed to develop new tools to identify and explain the role of behavioural biases in the technology market, and the knock-on effect on consumers.

As well as setting up the unit, shaping its remit and recruiting its staff, the hub's director will also be tasked with “creating and shaping a new function for the CMA that delivers on the priorities of the organisation”, the job ad said.

“While the CMA has considerable behavioural know-how from its economists and lawyers, it does not have a dedicated behavioural function, and it has not employed people with backgrounds in psychology, design or other social and behavioural sciences (‘behavioural insights’),” the application pack said.

The director will be expected to have a master’s degree or PhD in a relevant behavioural insight subject or equivalent experience; a “deep understanding” in relevant literature, and experience and skill analysing problems and providing “strong and inspirational management, leadership and development to a team of specialists in a fast-paced environment”.

There is no date set for the launch of the hub yet, but the team is expected to grow throughout next year.


About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World, where a version of this story first appeared. She tweets as @Beckie__Smith.


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