Google, Facebook, and Amazon face fresh scrutiny from a new UK competition watchdog that wants to curb their power

  • The UK government has launched a new competition watchdog to monitor Big Tech companies. 
  • The Digital Markets Unit has been tasked with coming up with a new code of conduct for tech giants. 
  • Officials highlighted Google and Facebook as among those they would be monitoring. 
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The UK government has unveiled a new competition watchdog designed to monitor the activities of tech giants like Facebook and Google. 

The Digital Markets Unit is set to “crack down on unfair practices” and enforce a new competition regime which covers digital businesses with “considerable market power.” 

Officials working under Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the formation of the new body in November 2020, as antitrust actions around the world — including in the US, EU, and Australia — began to bite Big Tech. 

The unit, officially launched on Wednesday, has been tasked with drawing up potential codes of conduct for Big Tech platforms in the UK, in particular looking at how they might govern the relationship between digital platforms and groups such as small businesses which rely on them to advertise or use their services to reach their customers.

The unit will spend a year drawing up this legal framework. It will also need to await lawmaker approval before it is given the power to impose fines or other penalties on big tech firms.

The new entity will sit within the existing UK competition watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority, which can investigate and block mergers and impose fines to anti-competitive behavior. It will be run for the interim by Will Hayter, a competition policy specialist who has spent the last six months working on the UK’s Brexit transition.

The launch comes months after a spokesperson for Johnson previously said Downing Street was “concerned” by Facebook’s decision to shut down news sharing in Australia, following a months-long battle with regulators over its own news media bargaining code. 

The launch also coincides with the European Union’s closer scrutiny of tech platform power with the proposed Digital Markets Act, a set of new laws that will curb the “gatekeeper” power of firms such as Google, Apple, and Amazon.

In a statement, culture secretary Oliver Dowden said the establishment of the unit marked a “major milestone in the path to creating the world’s most competitive online markets.”

“I’ve asked it to begin by looking at the relationships between platforms and content providers, and platforms and digital advertisers,” he said.

“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.”

“Online tools have proved to be a lifeline during the lockdown and they can help create a digital, sustainable and inclusive recovery,” a Google spokesperson said. “We support an approach that benefits people, businesses and society and we look forward to working constructively with the Digital Markets Unit so that everyone can make the most of the internet.”

Insider approached Facebook for comment. 

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