Big Tech face increased scrutiny from UK regulators after Brexit

Competition and Markets Authority to carry out probes of firms such as Amazon and Google

FILE - In this Oct. 23, 2019, file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. For years, Facebook has been in a defensive crouch amid a slew of privacy scandals, antitrust lawsuits and charges that it was letting hate speech and extremism destroy democracy. Early Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, though, it abruptly pivoted to take the offensive in Australia, where it lowered the boom on publishers and the government with a sudden decision to block news on its platform across the entire country. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Technology giants such as Amazon and Google could face antitrust probes in the next year, according to the UK’s competition watchdog, which is now independent from EU regulators following Brexit.

The Competition and Markets Authority will be given additional powers later this year through the Digital Markets Unit to oversee online platforms that the government said will “ensure consumers have choice, and mean smaller firms aren’t pushed out”.

“Until we have these new legal powers, if we want to achieve impact for consumers in the UK, we need to use our current [tools],” the CMA’s chief executive Andrea Coscelli told the Financial Times. “There are quite a few cases against the digital platforms in Brussels today and a number of these cases include the UK market.

Mr Coscelli said the CMA wanted to conduct probes that had not been carried out yet while also working with bodies such as the EU, which has already launched investigations into Amazon and Apple.
"We are actively scanning the players, the complaints we have received, the cases that others are doing, what could be done in parallel with others, where are the gaps in the work the European Commission is doing," he said.

“We certainly expect to open more cases during the course of this year,” Mr Coscelli added.

Big Tech companies are under increased scrutiny over their practices and the UK government has signalled they will be subject to a much stricter regime.

In announcing the creation of the Digital Markets Unit last November, the government said it wanted to introduce a new statutory code of conduct, oversee a pro-competition environment for platforms and give consumers more control and choice over how their data is used.

UK officials have backed Australia in its row with Facebook over a law that would force digital platforms to compensate media outlets for online content.

Facebook strongly rejects the proposed legislation and blocked virtually all Australian news on its platform in retaliation last week.

The UK’s Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is to hold talks with the social media giant later this week over the “worrying development,” according to reports.

Matt Hancock, the UK’s Health Secretary, said he had “very strong views on this” and was “a great admirer” of countries such as Australia, when asked about the dispute by Times Radio.