Google, Facebook, Apple Face Scrutiny in UK as New Regulator Launches

April 7, 2021 Updated: April 7, 2021

Google, Facebook, Apple, and other tech giants are expected to face closer scrutiny in the UK, as a new watchdog launched on Wednesday.

The new Digital Markets Unit (DMU), announced last November to give the UK independent regulating powers after Brexit, is a dedicated unit within the the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that aims to curb Big Tech domination and promote competition.

From Wednesday the DMU will perform in a “‘shadow’ non statutory form” until it get its full powers through legislation, according to a press release from the British government.

Will Hayter, who worked as a senior director at the CMA before joining the Cabinet Office, will take over as the interim head of the DMU early next month.

According to the government, the DMU will work with CMA enforcement teams on existing cases such as taking enforcement action against Google and Apple, and scrutinising mergers involving Facebook and eBay.

It will also compile the “necessary evidence, knowledge, and expertise” in the first year so it can be ready as soon as possible after it gains full power, the government said.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said in a statement that the launch is a “major milestone in the path to creating the world’s most competitive online markets, with consumers, entrepreneurs, and content publishers at their heart.”

Dowden asked the DMU to begin exploring practical ways to govern the relationships between digital platforms and small businesses that rely on them for advertising and reach, and between platforms and content providers.

“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,” he said.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng welcomed the step, saying it will “help to curb the dominance of tech giants, unleash a wave of innovation throughout the market and ensure smaller firms aren’t pushed out.”

CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli said the DMU will be “a world-leading hub of expertise” in digital markets.

“I am confident it will play a key role in helping innovation thrive and securing better outcomes for customers,” He said.

In February, Coscelli said that the Big Tech monopoly wasn’t considered a potential problem a decade ago because competition was thought to be “just one click away.”

“What we have learned,” he said, is that in some areas Big Tech companies have “very strong network effects, there are very strong benefits to scale, and just the sheer amount of information that has been collected historically.”

He said more intervention is required to level the playing field in order to give new companies space to grow.