UK to set up new antitrust unit to scrutinise Google, Facebook

The UK government on Friday said it will set up an antitrust unit to introduce and enforce a new code to govern the behaviour of platforms that currently dominate the market, such as Google and Facebook.

The new unit could be given powers 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.

The move is aimed to towards giving consumers more choice and control over their data, help small businesses thrive, and ensure new outlets are not forced out by their bigger rivals, the government said.

A dedicated Digital Markets Unit, which will be set up within the government’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), will work closely with regulators including Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office to introduce and enforce the new code.

“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,” the UK’s Business Secretary Alok Sharma said in a statement.

“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.”

Sharma said the government’s new, “pro-competition regime for digital markets will ensure consumers have choice, and mean smaller firms aren’t pushed out.”

The government said it will consult on the form and function of the Digital Markets Unit in early 2021 and added that the new unit will begin work in April 2021.

Under the new competition regime in the UK, tech platforms including those funded by digital advertising could be required to be more transparent about the services they provide and how they are using consumers’ data.

They could be also required to 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.

“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,” said the UK’s Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden.

“It’s time to address that and unleash a new age of tech growth.”