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UK Government Backtracks on Tech Regulation Bill

03 May, 2022 

The UK government is scrapping a proposed bill that would lend statutory powers to a new technology regulator, prompting concerns over its efficacy to handle tech giant dominance.

The bill was outlined to provide statutory underpinning to the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) new digital markets unit, created in 2021 to promote competition in digital markets. This morning the Financial Times reported that the government’s legislative programme is not expected to include such a bill.

In 2020 the CMA called for tougher rules to curb the dominance of Google and Facebook, keeping in check their collection of personal user data, power to push out smaller companies, and monopolisation of the UK’s digital advertising sector.

Saying they could not comment on “timelines for potential future legislation”, a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) spokesperson offered assurance that their “pro-competition regime will change the conduct of the most powerful tech firms.”

Deep pockets

Addressing the Law Society in 2021, CMA chair Jonathan Scott spoke of “coming down like a ton of bricks” on those responsible for “anti-competitive or unfair activity”, referencing “big parties with deep pockets” in the regulator’s investigations into Google, Amazon and Facebook.

As the statuary powers bill would lend weight to the CMA’s ton of bricks, its exclusion from the Queen’s Speech on 10th May could come as a blow to the regulatory community – for whom those deep pockets have often spelled trouble. In November 2021 the UK Supreme Court ruled that Google did not owe damages for personal data breaches, while Alphabet is currently disputing an EU ruling over the company forcing its AdSense platform onto customers.

The omission could also stymie broader efforts by the DCMS to tackle harmful practices in the digital space, including the Online Safety Bill aimed at regulating search engines and social media platforms. Last week the DCMS drafted a white paper introducing new powers for Ofcom to intervene in the streaming sector, and worked with the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF) in launching an investigation into the potential harm of algorithmic biases.

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