Watchdog that could rein in the tech giants

Watchdog that could rein in the tech giants: New UK digital regulator might have power to suspend or reverse anti-competitive action

  • Digital regulator could investigate Google’s algorithms, says Oliver Dowden
  • Concerns they disproportionately direct enquiries to Left-leaning news sites 
  • The Digital Markets Unit (DMU) has already begun work on a code of conduct

The UK’s new digital regulator is expected to have the power to suspend, block or reverse anti-competitive action by Facebook and other tech giants in a bid to help the Press prosper.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden revealed it could also investigate Google’s algorithms, amid concerns they are disproportionately directing search enquiries to Left-leaning news organisations.

The UK’s ‘tough’ new Digital Markets Unit (DMU), which launched yesterday, has begun work on a code of conduct to restrain the power of tech companies.

It aims to address concerns that the concentration of influence among a small number of tech firms – allowing them to dominate online advertising – is having negative consequences for consumers and businesses.

The Culture Secretary told the Daily Mail that measures aimed at pushing online platforms to take down harmful content will not give them licence to remove legitimate news content.

The UK’s new digital regulator is expected to have the power to suspend, block or reverse anti-competitive action by Facebook and other tech giants in a bid to help the Press prosper. Pictured: Oliver Dowden

He said that tech companies could potentially face ‘very significant fines’ if they failed to protect ‘freedom of expression’ and proper journalistic content.

The Government will consult this year on the final design of the new regime and the powers the DMU will have, with the aim of bringing in legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows. 

One focus of the DMU will be to work with media regulator Ofcom to establish ‘codes of conduct’ governing the relationship between the Press and online platforms.

Mr Dowden said a ‘strong Press is one of the cornerstones of our democracy in the UK’, and he was clear that good journalism ‘doesn’t come for free’. 

He explained: ‘The next step will be introducing legislation that will give the powers to the Digital Markets Unit. 

The need for that could include for example suspending, blocking or reversing tech giants’ decisions, or ordering them to act to comply and imposing financial penalties.’ 

Mr Dowden added that it could look at matters such as the price paid by online platforms for news content.

He also admitted he was taking in a ‘close interest’ in concerns that Google’s algorithms discriminate against popular news websites, such as MailOnline and the Sun, in favour of Left-leaning services such as the Guardian and BBC. 

The Culture Secretary told the Daily Mail that measures aimed at pushing online platforms to take down harmful content will not give them licence to remove legitimate news content

Mr Dowden said a ‘strong Press is one of the cornerstones of our democracy in the UK’, and he was clear that good journalism ‘doesn’t come for free’

He said: ‘It’s also something that I’ve raised with tech firms.’

Mr Dowden said that while it was vital that social media companies take down harmful or inappropriate content, it was ‘equally important’ that these platforms do not ‘undermine freedom of expression, freedom of debate and journalistic freedom’.

He added: ‘That is why I have sought to – and you will see this when the legislation comes forward – create exemptions for journalistic content and to create strong safeguards to ensure that freedom of speech and freedom of expression is not undermined.’

The Culture Secretary said questions about freedom of expression are for government ministers, ‘not for executives in these firms accountable to their shareholders’.

Ofcom could have the power to issue ‘very significant fines’ if they fail to do so.

The Competition and Markets Authority, of which the DMU will be a part, has already been examining digital companies, including Google, Apple and eBay.

Mr Dowden added: ‘I’m pro-tech, but I am not pro untrammelled big tech, and this is about making sure we have a strong, healthy tech market.’

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