Britain unveiled new legislation on Tuesday to boost consumer protections online and wrest control of the online market from several anti-competitive tech giants. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License photo
April 25 (UPI) — Britain unveiled a new antitrust law Tuesday aimed at protecting consumers from online scams and boosting competition in a digital market currently dominated by a few players.
The bill will give the Competition and Markets Authority new powers to crack down on subscription traps, which it says are costing consumers $2 billion a year, to crack down on fake reviews and to investigate and prosecute companies that engage in price fixing. Department of Business and Trade press release.
The watchdog will be empowered to enforce consumer laws directly, rather than through lengthy court proceedings, and the legislation will raise the maximum penalty to 10% of offenders’ global turnover.
Providing fake reviews or promoting user reviews without taking reasonable steps to verify their authenticity will also become illegal. The new rules oblige companies to ensure consumers can unsubscribe easily, cheaply and quickly, and require companies to provide a reminder when a free or introductory offer ends.
A new digital markets unit, the CMA, will have special powers to end the “excessive dominance” that a small number of tech companies have over consumers and businesses in Britain.
The DMU will be able to compel companies to share data with rival search engines and hold executives personally accountable for complying with the department’s directives.
“Today’s announcement shows that we are proud to support growth and innovation in the technology sector to unlock new opportunities for all businesses, no matter how small or large, and to empower consumers,” said the Minister for Technology and the Digital Economy. Paul Scully.
“The Prime Minister has been very clear about her intention to deliver growth and innovation in every corner of our economy – the new Digital Markets Department will help deliver this important priority for the UK’s digital economy.
But the announcement was met with consternation by big tech, which has lobbied to challenge the regulator’s rulings on grounds of fairness.
Industry group TechUK said that while the bill was vital, it expected a system with checks and balances.
Associate director Neil Ross said it was important for the appeals process to “resolve disputes quickly while taking into account all the facts of the case in making key regulatory decisions.”
But efforts by the tech sector to water down ministers’ plans appear to have hardened the government’s resolve to press ahead with restrictions on companies unhappy with the decision seeking a judicial review.
Under the proposed system, companies can only appeal if the DMU does not strictly follow the prescribed steps, severely limiting the ability of companies to overturn their decisions or play for time.
Before a bill can be passed, it must be approved by parliament.