Wednesday, April 21

Google to face a new regulator as UK plans tech-focused agency

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The U.K. government approved plans for a separate regulatory program for companies including Facebook Inc. and Google, saying the new competition unit would be given powers to impose fines to rein in the dominance of the largest tech companies.

The Digital Markets Unit will be housed inside the antitrust regulator from April, with powers to enforce a new code of conduct and potentially “suspend, block and reverse decisions of tech giants,” the U.K government said Friday.

The move comes after the Competition and Markets Authority called for additional powers to scrutinize transactions for any tech company designated as having strategic-market status under a “special parallel regime.” The CMA will emerge from the shadow of the European Commission, the region’s main antitrust watchdog, when the U.K. leaves the EU’s internal market at the end of the year.

The CMA wants to crack down on internet giants swallowing up smaller firms and is set to issue detailed plans in December.

“There is growing consensus in the U.K. and abroad that the concentration of power among a small number of tech companies is curtailing growth of the sector, reducing innovation and having negative impacts on the people and businesses that rely on them,” Oliver Dowden, the culture minister, said.

The advertising revenues that fuel profits for Google and Facebook are increasingly coming under antitrust scrutiny, often prompted by complaints from media companies as advertising spend shifts to the web.

“Only through a new pro-competition regulatory regime can we tackle the market power of tech giants like Facebook and Google and ensure that businesses and consumers are protected,” Andrea Coscelli, chief of the CMA, said.

The growing power of big tech is attracting intense antitrust scrutiny across the globe with the U.S. stepping up enforcement and the EU planning to give itself new powers to crack down on so-called gatekeepers that can control access to online stores or apps.