The global movement to take on the dominance of big tech companies is evolving at pace. We’ve seen this in the US with Congressional anti-trust hearings, the resulting report, and the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against Google. On the other side of the world, Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is watching America’s progress, developing its own code to force digital platforms to pay for news content published on their sites. Meanwhile, the EU is looking to draw up plans to tackle market share imbalances between tech competitors and, now, the UK is joining in.
The UK government announced that it will set up a new Digital Markets Unit launching in April “to oversee a pro-competition regime for digital platforms, including those funded by digital advertising”. This step also follows recommendations of a 2018 review led by Jason Furman, chief economic adviser to former US President Obama. Now that President Trump’s aggressive pro-US-company stance will soon be in the past, the UK is free to follow America’s drive to question the power concentrated in the few largest tech companies from Silicon Valley.
Many of the forthcoming regulations seek to level the playing field, recognising the power imbalances of larger established internet companies versus newer, smaller entrants. A key insight in the Congressional hearings was how companies leverage their existing services to support others in an uncompetitive way. While the DOJ’s lawsuit on search market dominance was started under Trump, it’s worth noting that some Democratic-led states refused to sign-on and are undertaking their own antitrust investigations – many of which include further probes into Google’s behaviour. This lawsuit, or something similar, and the general push to regulate big tech is widely expected to continue from the Biden White House. The UK’s latest response also promises that a new pro-competition regime will “form a key part” of the Government’s expected Digital Strategy.
Our dependence on big tech during the pandemic is undoubted – from shopping on Amazon to communicating via Twitter and Facebook. However grateful we all are from the ability to live our lives online, the increasing importance of local has also taken on new meaning. What happens to the shops down the street or our favourite boutiques that can’t compete on the internet in the same way as the established online companies? What about new and different social networks we aren’t seeing because too many of our friends and important pictures are already on Facebook?
The pandemic also reminded us of the importance of resilience and innovation. Are there new ideas and companies with innovative solutions which aren’t making it into the market, or onto the first page of Google results?
Trust and transparency are two concepts we’re already used to seeing in discussions about big tech. Now, fairness is the latest buzzword – and we’re sure to see this come up again and again.