New UK government watchdog to police big tech

Written by Lucy Wakeford, Communications Coordinator, DigitalAgenda

The UK government is to create an industry watchdog to police big tech corporations. 

Currently, Facebook and Google hold the largest share of the market for online advertising, partly because of their enormous data stores that allow them to personalise advertisements to a degree not possible for a smaller company. 90% of search advertisements can be attributed to Google, creating revenue of over £6 billion last year. Similarly, over half of display advertising revenue goes to Facebook, to an annual total of £2 billion.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) asserts that this market dominance ‘may be potentially undermining the ability of newspapers and other publishers to produce valuable content, as their share of revenues is squeezed by large platforms.’ This lack of competition means costs are often passed on to consumers.

The EU currently handles most of the UK’s competition landscape, so the new watchdog will have an important part to play after Brexit later this month. 

The move comes against the backdrop of a worldwide ‘tech-lash’, with the once positive image of tech increasingly tarnished by global anxiety about the enormous power of tech conglomerates such as Amazon, Facebook and Google. With regulation around technology lacking in strength or adaptability, tech companies are able to operate almost without censure.

DCMS comments that ‘digital services must work for everyone, so that the incredible benefits of digital technologies are properly harnessed, consumers are protected, and innovation thrives across the economy.’ The new regulator may go some way towards reaching the goal of responsible innovation.

The watchdog will be able to curb the enormous power of companies such as Facebook and Google by handing out fines that can exceed the cap that applies to the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). 

However, Google and Facebook both claim that users retain control of their data and the advertising they are presented with. A representative from Google said: ‘We’ve built easy-to-use controls to enable people to manage their data in Google’s services.’ Whilst a spokesperson from Facebook said: ‘We agree with the CMA that people should have control over their data and transparency around how it is used.’


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