UK bill aims to tackle big tech’s dominance in digital markets

UK bill aims to tackle big tech’s dominance in digital markets

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The U.K. announced today that its Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill will crack down on the dominance of some of the world’s leading tech companies.

Despite mammoth efforts by big tech to stop the bill from going through, their lobbying has not produced any significant changes. The U.K.’s watchdogs, including the all-new Digital Markets Unit, or DMU, have been empowered to go after any companies that don’t adhere to the rules, with fines to be as much as 10% of the company’s turnover. That could be many billions of dollars.

Companies that are deemed to have “strategic market status” will be the ones under the spotlight. That means Inc., Google LLC, Apple Inc. and Meta Platforms Inc. will have to follow the sweeping rules or risk losing their foothold in the lucrative U.K. market. The bill isn’t law yet and needs to go through Parliament, but for now, it looks as though that’s going to happen next year.

These reforms will likely mean these tech behemoths will have to allow other tech companies to access their data and generally increase transparency about how their products work. The country’s minister for tech and the digital economy, Paul Scully, said this will “open up new opportunities for all firms, however small or large they are, while empowering consumers.”

In a press release today, the government agencies involved said that it will crack down on “subscription traps,” making it easier for people to opt out of subscriptions. This apparently costs U.K. consumers £1.6 billion ($2 billion) a year. It will also crack down on fake reviews that appear on various marketplaces. The bill will mean the Competition and Markets Authority, or CMA, as well as the DMU will be able to take action right away, rather than go through a lengthy court process.

“In competitive markets, firms strive to give consumers the best products, most choice, and lowest possible prices,” said the press release. “The Bill will provide the CMA with stronger tools to investigate competition problems and take faster, more effective action, including where companies collude to bump-up prices at the expense of U.K. consumers.”

It’s not certain just what all the rules will be. Even “pressure selling” was mentioned, but by the sounds of it, the bill will encompass anything that the watchdogs think harms the consumer or competition in general. The message was made clear by a consumer rights advocate who said the aim is to break “up the dominance of a handful of tech giants, whose entrenched market power holds smaller firms back.”

As the EU also gets ready to curb the power of big tech, life for U.S. companies, and also for companies in China, is going to get pretty rough over in Europe in the coming years.

Photo: NordWood Themes/Unsplash

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