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UK to clamp down on big tech

A picture taken on April 15, 2022 in Moscow shows the US multinational technology and Internet-related services company Google's logo on a tablet screen. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP
A picture taken on April 15, 2022 in Moscow shows the US multinational technology and Internet-related services company Google's logo on a tablet screen. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)

Large tech companies such as Google and Facebook will have to abide by new competition rules in the UK or risk facing huge fines, the government said.

The new Digital Markets Unit will be given powers to clamp down on “predatory practices” of some firms.

According to the BBC, the regulator will also have the power to fine companies up to 10 per cent of their global turnover if they fail to comply.

Besides boosting competition among tech firms, the rules also aim to give users more control over their data.

The BBC approached several of the big tech firms, including Apple, Meta and Google, but has received no response.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said as well as large fines, tech firms could be handed additional penalties of 5 per cent of daily global turnover for each day an offence continues.

For companies like Apple that could be tens of billions of US dollars.

“Senior managers will face civil penalties if their firms fail to engage properly with requests for information,” the government said.

However, it is unclear when exactly the changes will come into force, as the government has said the necessary legislation will be introduced in due course.

Digital minister Chris Philp said the government wanted to level the playing field in the technology industry, in which a few American companies have been accused of abusing their market dominance.

“The dominance of a few tech giants is crowding out competition and stifling innovation,” he said.

As well as attempting to hold Big Tech to account, the DMU will look to give people more control over how their data is used by tech firms – for example with targeted personalised adverts.

It will also make it easier for people to switch between phone operating systems such as Apple iOS or Android and social media accounts, without losing data and messages.

Critics have called such closed systems walled gardens that lock consumers into using products from a specific company.

Google’s search engine, which is currently the default search engine on Apple products, will also be looked at by the regulator, the government said.

It added it wants news publishers to be paid fairly for their content – and will give the regulator power to resolve conflicts.

This move is in response to friction between Meta, Google, and news publishers. The argument is that while many local and national news organisations struggle to survive, Big Tech companies are posting record profits — and raising advertising revenue from the stories they produce.

Meta and Google argue that the relationship is symbiotic, that they direct traffic towards news organisations.

Last year the situation escalated, when a proposed law in Australia looking to level the playing the field resulted in Facebook temporarily blocking Australian news organisations — before an agreement was reached.

The UK government said its new rules could increase the bargaining power of national and regional newspapers.

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