Britain introduced new legislation Tuesday aimed at increasing protection for consumers online and wresting away market control of the online space from a handful of anti-competitive tech giants. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
April 25 (UPI) -- Britain unveiled new anti-trust legislation Tuesday aimed at protecting consumers from being ripped off online and boosting competition in the digital market, currently dominated by a handful of players.
The bill will give new powers to the Competition and Markets Authority to clamp down on subscription traps it said cost consumers $2 billion a year, tackle fake reviews and investigate and prosecute companies engaged in price-fixing, according to a Business and Trade Department news release.
The watchdog will be empowered to enforce consumer law directly rather than having to go through lengthy court processes with the legislation increasing the maximum penalty to 10% of offenders' global turnover.
Facilitating fake reviews or advertising consumer reviews without taking reasonable steps to check they are genuine will also become illegal. New rules mandate that firms ensure consumers can exit subscriptions easily, cheaply and quickly with businesses required to issue a reminder when a free or introductory offer is coming to an end.
A new Digital Markets Unit within the CMA will gain special power to roll back the "excessive dominance" that a small number of tech companies have over consumers and businesses in Britain.
The DMU will be able to force companies to share data with rival search engines and hold executives personally responsible -- on pain of disqualification -- for compliance with the unit's instructions.
"Today's announcement shows we are proudly pro-growth and pro-innovation across the board in the tech sector, seeking to open up new opportunities for all firms, however small or large they are, while empowering consumers," said Tech and Digital Economy Minister Paul Scully.
"The Prime Minister has made his intention to secure growth and innovation within every corner of our economy very clear -- the new Digital Markets Unit will help fulfill this important priority for the U.K. in the digital economy."
However, the announcement has been received with consternation by big tech which had been lobbying to be able to appeal the regulator's rulings based on whether its decisions were correct.
The industry group TechUK said that while the bill was vital it had hoped for a system with checks and balances.
Associate director Neil Ross said it was important that the appeals process allowed "quick resolutions to disputes while allowing the full facts of a case to be taken into account for the most significant regulatory decisions."
But the tech sector's efforts to water down ministers' plans appear to have hardened the resolve of the government which is pushing ahead with restricting companies that are unhappy with a decision to seeking a judicial review.
Under the proposed system companies can only appeal if the DMU fails to strictly adhere to the steps prescribed, severely limiting companies' options to overturn its decisions, or play for time.
The bill is subject to receiving the approval of Parliament before it can pass into law.