UK slowly ratcheting up power of newly formed big tech antitrust regulator

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After more than a year being powerless, the UK Digital Markets Unit will be granted the authority to reverse anti-competitive actions by big tech firms — in 2022.

A Digital Markets Unit was proposed by the UK in 2020, then launched with no powers in early 2021. It still won't have any legal authority until Parliamentary approval some time in 2022, but now the UK has made a broad announcement of what its nascent regulator may be able to do.

"The UK's tech scene is thriving but we need to make sure British firms have a level playing field with the tech giants, and that the public gets the best services at fair prices," said Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden in a press release.

"So we will be giving our new Digital Markets Unit the powers it needs to champion competition and drive growth and innovation," he continued, "with tough fines to make sure the biggest tech firms play by the rules."

The announcement is less a detailed proposal of specific regulatory powers, more the start of a consultation in which some broad proposals have been outlined. The "tough fines" mentioned are among the few details, and say the UK may impose fines "of a maximum of 10% of a firm's turnover for the most serious breaches."

It does not say what could constitute these most serious of breaches. The announcement does say that the UK may force big tech firms to support interoperability more.

"For example, it could require platforms to allow the public to share contacts from one platform to another," it says.

"The DMU could also be given powers to suspend, block and reverse code-breaching behaviour by tech giants - for instance unfair changes in their algorithms or T&Cs - and order them to take specific actions to comply with the code," continues the release.

The UK's Digital Markets Unit may also be able to label companies as having being ones with Strategic Market Status. Such SMS firms may then be subject to proposed powers being considered for the UK's separate Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

In June 2021, the CMA announced that it would be investigating Apple and Google's "effective duopoly."

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