New UK watchdog set to curb Big Tech’s hold over news media

Fight between Australia and Facebook over new law forcing tech platforms to pay local news outlets highlights issue.

The UK set up its new tech firm regulator after concluding that Facebook and Google have significant market power in their respective sectors [File: Chris Jackson/Getty Images]

The United Kingdom’s new regulator for technology giants Facebook and Google launches on Wednesday with an initial remit to see if a code of conduct could improve the balance of power between the platforms and news publishers.

The government established the Digital Markets Unit (DMU) – part of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) – to stop big technology companies abusing their market dominance after the competition regulator said existing rules were not enough.

The power and reach of Big Tech have grown faster than many governments’ ability to keep them in check.

The UK’s Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said he had asked the DMU to look at how a code could govern the relationships between platforms and content providers, such as news publishers, to ensure they were as fair and reasonable as possible.

‘Choice and control’

“The Digital Markets Unit has launched and I’ve asked it to begin by looking at the relationships between platforms and content providers and platforms and digital advertisers,” he said in a statement.

“This will pave the way for the development of new digital services and lower prices, give consumers more choice and control over their data, and support our news industry, which is vital to freedom of expression and our democratic values.”

Unfriending Facebook? Internet giants and their earnings - Counting the Cost
[File: Chesnot/Getty Images]

The unit was set up after the CMA concluded last year that Google had significant market power in search and in search advertising, and Facebook had significant market power in social media and in display advertising.

The UK said the unit would coordinate with international partners that are also grappling with tech regulation.

A dispute, now resolved, between Facebook and the Australian government in February over payments for local news highlighted the growing issue of regulating Big Tech.

The social media giant temporarily blacked out news content in response to new legislation, a move condemned by publishers and politicians in multiple countries.

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp reached a content-supply deal with Facebook Inc in Australia last month. The agreement, terms of which were not disclosed, made News Corp the first large media outlet to strike a Facebook deal under the controversial new laws that let an Australian government-appointed arbitrator set fees if companies fail to do so.

Dowden will host digital and tech ministers in April to discuss coordination on information sharing and joining up regulatory and policy approaches, the government said.

The DMU is awaiting government legislation to give it the powers it requires.

Source: Reuters