Governments around the world have been grappling with ways to crimp the power of the biggest tech companies. In the United States, the Justice Department recently filed an antitrust case against Google. The European Union has issued antitrust violations and enacted stiffer data-protection laws. The Australian government is pushing new rules to make Google and Facebook pay for certain content.
But many question whether the tactics are adequate, particularly if a lengthy enforcement and legal process slows down action against the fast-moving and deep-pocketed companies.
On Tuesday, Britain’s top antitrust regulator recommended a new approach. The Competition and Markets Authority released recommendations for creating a new regulator called the Digital Markets Unit that will focus on the biggest technology platforms. The regulator would be able to fine companies up to 10 percent of global revenue.
The idea of creating a tech industry regulator has gained momentum among academics and policymakers around the world. The aim is to treat giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft more like the biggest companies in banking and health care — with dedicated regulators that have the expertise in the subject matter to serve as a watchdog and act quickly to address wrongdoing, akin to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Food and Drug Administration.
Britain is perhaps the furthest along. The new regulator would be responsible for enforcing a legally binding code of conduct intended to prevent the biggest companies from using their dominance to exploit consumers and business, or to box out emerging competitors. Officials said only companies of a certain size would fall under the rules, which would be tailored to specific types of businesses. Google and Facebook may face certain restrictions related to digital advertising, while Amazon would have others related to e-commerce.
To improve competition, the regulator could force companies to share certain data with rivals, and it would review acquisitions.
The proposals build on recommendations made by a British panel of experts last year and are part of a process by the government to enact regulations for the digital economy by next year. Britain is preparing to leave the European Union, which next week will release its own draft laws to increase oversight of the tech industry across the 27-nation bloc.
British authorities have raised specific concerns about the digital advertising market dominated by Google and Facebook. In July, the Competition and Markets Authority published a 437-page investigation that concluded the two companies have such scale and unmatched access to user data that “potential rivals can no longer compete on equal terms.”
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