UK set to legislate to create new regulator to tackle Big Tech

The British government is set to introduce legislation within days to establish a new regulator to police the growing dominance of big technology platforms, such as Google, Amazon and Facebook.

The draft bill will put the digital markets unit within the Competition and Markets Authority, the main UK competition watchdog, on a statutory footing and give it regulatory powers to specifically target the so-called Big Tech companies, according to people familiar with the plans.

The UK first pledged to set up a watchdog to address the growing power of Big Tech three years ago but has so far failed to legislate, despite establishing the digital markets unit in 2021.

According to details of the legislation, known as the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers bill, seen by the Financial Times, the new regulator will target a small number of tech companies generating at least £25bn in global turnover, or £1bn in the UK, with tailored rules.

Only companies with entrenched power in at least one digital market will be targeted and any found in breach of the rules could face fines of up to 10 per cent of global turnover as part of the new regime first outlined in 2020.

Two officials told the FT that the legislation would be published during the week beginning April 24. The government declined to comment on the exact timing but confirmed that the bill would be introduced to parliament soon.

The rules will also require each company to nominate a senior individual to take responsibility for compliance with the new regime. The regulator will also be able to fine executives should a company fail to comply with its information requests.

Any appeal against the regulator’s decisions would have to follow the standard process for challenging a ruling by the CMA by seeking a judicial review. That requirement is likely to frustrate the big tech companies which were pushing for a lower burden of proof for adjudicating disputes.

The bill will end a period of limbo for the digital markets unit, which was set up two years ago without any powers beyond the CMA’s existing arsenal. It has a staff of 70.

The UK was initially at the forefront of a global push to tackle the dominance of the biggest technology groups. But the government shelved plans to legislate last year.

Meanwhile, other jurisdictions, including the EU have pulled ahead. Last year Brussels enacted new rules to regulate Big Tech.

Tom Smith, an antitrust partner at law firm Geradin Partners, said: “If implemented successfully, this new regime would remove some of the artificial restrictions imposed by the Big Tech platforms and therefore enable more tech businesses to grow, but there is a lot of work still to be done in making sure the new rules achieve that.”

He said the bill was “not seeking to hinder the Big Tech firms’ innovation, but to make sure other businesses can also thrive in the modern economy where access to their customers is controlled by the large operators of app stores, search engines and ecommerce platforms”.

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