Rishi Sunak is accused of ‘caving in’ to tech giants after watering down laws meant to keep them in check
Changes to Digital Markets Bill make it easier for companies to challenge fines
MPs, business leaders, consumer rights groups warn wiggle room weakens Bill
Rishi Sunak has been accused of kowtowing to the world’s biggest online giants after watering down new laws meant to keep them in check.
The Prime Minister, who was personally lobbied by Silicon Valley, has changed the Digital Markets Bill to make it easier for Big Tech to challenge potential billion-pound fines.
Concerns have also been raised that further provisions added to the Bill could leave the door open for tech firms to argue against any decisions made.
MPs, business leaders and consumer rights groups yesterday warned that allowing any wiggle room would ‘fundamentally weaken’ the power of the Bill.
It is understood that the UK’s competition regulator has warned the Government that the amendments could well spell a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ for the new watchdog it helped set up.
Rishi Sunak has been accused of bowing down to tech giants after watering down laws which are meant to keep them in check
Under the Bill, the Digital Markets Unit (DMU) will be empowered to stop the biggest search engines and social media platforms from abusing their dominance by shutting out competitors.
It will also ensure they pay media outlets fairly for using their stories and stop them from abusing their dominance in digital advertising to stifle competition. Any companies found to have breached the new rules will face hefty fines of up to 10 per cent of their global turnover.
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Over recent months, tech giants have heavily lobbied the Government to change the Bill to allow them to challenge any decision made on its merit rather than on a point of law.
Yesterday, ministers said they would keep the appeals system as it had originally been drafted for regulatory decisions, a decision that was widely welcomed.
However, they also announced crucial new amendments to the Bill that appeared aimed to appease Big Tech – by allowing them to appeal the size of any fine handed down by the DMU.
Last night, critics also highlighted concerns over discreet changes to the wording of the Bill – which now includes requiring the DMU to show that the action it took was ‘proportionate’.
Former digital minister Damian Collins said: ‘The test of proportionality should not allow tech companies to challenge any decision by the regulator that they don’t like.
‘Such a system could lead to lengthy delays, triggered deliberately by the tech companies to frustrate the regulator.’
Consumer watchdog Which? also highlighted another potential loophole added to the Bill that requires the DMU to consider whether the action benefits consumers, which it warned could allow firms to make ‘spurious claims’ that their anti-competitive behaviour did so.
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Meanwhile, Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: ‘The Digital Markets Unit needs credible deterrents in the form of fines, so any deviation from the Judicial Review standard on penalties must not open the door for Big Tech to weaponise the legal system by throwing money at lengthy and costly court cases, tying the regulator up and preventing it from enhancing competition in digital markets.’
And Martin Nolan, chief legal officer for travel comparison site Skyscanner, said: ‘Any further changes could fundamentally weaken the deterrents for gatekeepers.’
In a letter sent to Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch earlier this year, the House of Lords communications and digital committee said that the Bill in its original form ‘strikes the right balance’ – allowing it to promote innovation and create a level playing field within digital markets.
Former digital minister Paul Scully had previously said that giving tech giants a say on every decision made by the new DMU watchdog would be tantamount to handing them a ‘legal weapon’.
And last month, Whitehall sources told The Mail on Sunday that Mr Sunak was personally leading a drive to water down the plans owing to his ‘admiration’ for the Big Tech firms.